Synthetic Biology, according to its proponents, is moving at five times the pace of Moore’s law – basically doubling its capabilities and halving its costs every four months. Except that brash billionaire Craig Venter, often dubbed Bioscience’s Bad Boy, is no Gordon Moore. Venter has just announced that his team has produced Synthia 3.0 – the simplest human-made and self-replicating lifeform ever. Synthia 1.0 was announced – after years of delays – in 2010 and its second coming in this new form has been awaited ever since. Synthia 2.0 slipped by without notice – apparently not much to talk about – but this new version is being hailed by at least some synthetic biology scientists as a breakthrough.
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La Via Campesina, GRAIN and ETC Group
The data on which is based the declaration of international emergency for the Zika virus are striking for the lack of evidence to motivate such a pompous statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the face of a mild illness, with very little evidence of connection with more serious ailments and without scientific proof.
For a decade, six multinationals have controlled 75% of the world’s high-tech seeds and pesticides businesses. Late last year, Dow and DuPont agreed to merge and now state-owned ChemChina is buying Syngenta for $43 billion. This means that Monsanto needs a merger to stay in the game. Or, is the game about to be called?
The $130 billion Dow-DuPont merger announced last week has rekindled ChemChina’s $44.6 billion bid for Syngenta which, in turn, may provoke a fourth takeover try by Monsanto. If ChemChina prevails, Monsanto is likely to look for a deal with either BASF or Bayer. If they get their way, the world’s Big Six agricultural input companies controlling 75% of global agricultural R&D may be reduced to three or four.
Paris, 11 December 2015
Seemingly out of the blue (or rather, out of the black smog of the UNFCCC process), some of the largest historical culprits for climate change, countries including the United States, Canada and the European Union, have decided to back an "ambitious goal" of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. To achieve this, radical emissions cuts would be needed from now, but in the case of these countries, that's not their real intention.
Paris, 27th November 2015 – Some of the world’s largest agro-industrial corporations will be flying the flag for ‘climate-smart agriculture’ at the upcoming Climate Summit. They will claim that hi-tech crops and intensive industrial agriculture are needed to rescue farmers (and the hungry) from a warming world – a claim widely dismissed by peasant movements and civil society groups.
Paris, 24th November 2015 - At the upcoming Climate summit in Paris, some governments and much of civil society will be pushing for an urgent transition away from the carbon-rich fossil fuels responsible for climate chaos. However, one hi-tech sector, the multi-billion dollar Synthetic Biology industry, is now actively tying its future to the very oil, coal and gas extraction it once claimed to be able to displace. That’s the conclusion of a new report released jointly today from the ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation. Titled “Extreme Biotech meets Extreme Energy”, the report predicts that as the extreme biotech industry and the extreme extraction industry move towards deeper collaboration, the biosafety risks and climate threats emanating from them will become ever more entangled.
Las Vegas seems to be an apt place to launch a risky corporate gamble that could destroy the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers. Earlier this month, the international food conglomerate Cargill chose the city’s famous Strip to introduce what it hopes will be its next blockbuster product: EverSweet, a sweetener made of “the same sweet components in the stevia plant.”
And yet, despite Cargill’s heavy reliance on stevia in its promotional material, EverSweet does not contain a single leaf of the plant. Cargill’s new product is an example of synthetic biology, a form of genetic engineering that uses modified organisms to manufacture compounds that would never be produced naturally. What makes EverSweet taste sweet is not stevia; it is a compound produced by a bioengineered yeast.