"I think this is going to become the foundational technology of the 21st century" - that was the triumphant message with which Tom Knight of MIT brought Synthetic Biology 3.0 to an end today. An engineering generalist who moved from artificial intelligence to artificial life, it was Knight who, along with Drew Endy, developed the concept of biobricks -- snap-together genetic parts from which to assemble Lego-like genes.
Jim Thomas's blog
'The cool' and 'the concerned' -- that was how Zurich-based ethicist Nicola Biller Andorno today aptly characterised the two tribes attending Synthetic Biology 3.0...The cool, in her lexicon, are the synthusiasts, those who regard making synthetic life forms as...like...hey dude, that's like, so cool. The concerned, roughly speaking, is made up of people like us (we've never been accused of being cool). Namely, the dour civil society and social scientists whose gut reaction to making new life forms is -- er.. that's concerning.
Sunday afternoon and Synthetic Biology 3.0 gets underway in high spirits amidst the glass and concrete of the ETH Campus. Host Sven Panke kicked off the conference promising that SynBio3.0 would have something for everyone -- the enthusiasts (clearly the majority), the curious and the skeptics (we guess that's us).
Some of us from ETC are in Zurich for the next few days observing what happens when you cram several hundred synthetic biologists and industrialists into a conference room -- the evolution of a new industrial species? These 'Synthusiasts' are now into their third annual international congress, Synthetic Biology 3.0, each conference named like a software update. Unlike software updates however it's not clear they've really ironed out the major bugs in the intervening years.
In the last few years it would have been fair to "blame Canada" for trying to overturn the international moratorium on terminator seeds. Thankfully if a new initiative in Ottawa suceeds the Canadian government may be forced to change its tune.
A bill to prohibit field testing and commercialization of Terminator seed technology was introduced in the Canadian Parliament today by the Agriculture critic (ie spokesperson) for the NDP party.
In the midst of our new fight over geoengineering near the Galapagos, we've got good news over a very old fight with Monsanto... Hope Shand just phoned from Munich to say that the European Patent Office has agreed with ETC's arguments and overturned Monsanto's soybean "species" patent. There is no further appeal!!
In a couple of days Hope Shand from ETC Group will be in court in the European patent Office to challenge Monsanto's Patent on Soy beans - a patent that we have been contesting for 13 years and that originally Monsanto themselves opposed!! You can read more about that here. In the meantime, ETC Group is releasing its new ranking of the world's top 10 seed companies, based on 2006 seed revenues. The list appears below.
The biotech industry claims that the global area devoted to GM crops in 2005 was 90 million hectares - or 222 million acres. ETC Group does not endorse or agree with the validity of annual statistics on GM crops compiled by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
We agree with civil society critics who charge that ISAAA's statistics are inflated and unreliable. However, even using industry-generated statistics, the biotech countdown is revealing. Here are the vital statistics:
The Economist this week has a Special Report on Synthetic Biology , the new field of building artificial life forms from scratch. As is to be expected from the Economist, this is a fairly upbeat assesment of the technology that fails to mention the growing opposition to Synthetic Biology, signalled a few months ago when almost forty civil society groups, trade unions and scientific associations signed an open letter calling for caution.
Here at ETC we have been busy writing our own special report on Synthetic Biology (which we are calling 'Extreme Genetic Engineering' - watch this space!). You can expect it to be a bit more critical than the Economist.