This case study illustrates how a key pharmaceutical ingredient, shikimic acid – traditionally derived from star anise cultivated by Chinese farmers – can be rapidly replaced by a new technological production process. Using synthetic biology, shikimic acid is now being produced commercially in drug industry fermentation tanks. The transition took less than a decade. Shikimic acid is just one example of a raw material that may be affected; it is conservatively estimated that at least 50% of today’s commercial pharmaceutical compounds are derived from plants, animals and microorganisms. No inter-governmental body is addressing the potential impacts of synthetic biology on the conservation and use of biodiversity and on the livelihoods of those who depend on agricultural export commodities (including high-value flavors, fragrances, essential oils, etc). The Convention on Biological Diversity is the most appropriate forum to address this new and emerging issue.
Recent Content Related to Synthetic Biology
It's not just that we are facing "something new", we are facing "something else". The speed, breadth and depth of technological change is out-pacing and out-scoping policymakers. Since 1992, the convergence of technologies (living and inert) at the atomic - or nano - scale is adding new dimensions to the nature of technological transformation. Governments need global tools to respond to "something else". Find in this briefing ten technology leaps making the case for prioritizing Technology Assessment at the UN.
Clean green technologies are at the center of the many special reports leading to Rio+20. Understandably, governments have focused on access to “know-how.” Since 1992, however, costly, resource-wasting experience has taught that “know-how” must be accompanied with “know-what” – assessment of the technology choices available – and “know-why” – a participatory analysis of socioeconomic and environmental needs a technology is to address.
A ideia de “uma grande transformação tecnológica verde” que possibilita uma “economia verde” está sendo amplamente promovida como a chave para a sobrevivência do nosso planeta. O objetivo final é substituir a extração e refino de petróleo pela transformação da biomassa. Quem vai controlar a futura economia verde?
Neste documento conjunto, a Fundação Heinrich Böll e o Grupo ETC mostram quem são os novos ‘senhores da biomassa’ e argumentam que, na ausência de uma governança efetiva e socialmente responsável, a economia verde irá perpetuar a economia da ganância.
The notion of a "great green technological transformation" enabling a "green economy" is now being widely promoted as the key to our planet's survival. The ultimate goal is to substitute the extravtion and refining of petroleum with the transformation of biomass. Who will be in control of the future green economy?
In this joint report, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the ETC Group reveal the new "Biomassters" and argue that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy will perpetuate the greed economy.
What is the plan? How will we eat in a time of climate change? Pat Mooney lays out the path of organics and biodiversity, versus big biomass and synthetic biology companies.
Corporations investing in Synthetic Biology include 6 of the top 10 Chemical Companies, 6 of the top 10 Energy companies, 6 of the top 10 grain traders and the top 7 pharma companies.
Due to problems with scale-up, some synthetic biology companies are shifting focus away from biofuels to high-value / low-volume products – especially compounds found in plants (e.g., essential oils, flavours, fragrances, colourants and pharmaceuticals) – which are traditionally cultivated by farming communities in the global South.
If commercially viable, synthetic biology’s patented organisms have the potential to de-stabilize natural product markets, disrupt trade and eliminate jobs.with far-reaching impacts on agricultural economies.
Biopiracy refers to the monopolization (usually through intellectual property) of genetic resources and traditional knowledge or culture taken from peoples or farming communities that developed and nurtured those resources.
The Captain Hook Awards are a project of the Coalition Against Biopiracy, an informal group of civil society and peoples' organizations that first came together at the 1995 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Jakarta.
The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology is the first global declaration from civil society to outline principles that must be adopted to protect public health and our environment from the risks posed by synthetic biology. The report also addresses the field’s numerous economic, social and ethical challenges. The writing of these principles was a collaborative effort and has been endorsed by 111 organizations from around the world.
International efforts to address the food, energy and climate crises give technology a central role to play. While some technologies may offer potential solutions to specific problems, decades of accelerating technological development and deployment have done little to mitigate climate change, and, in many cases, have made problems worse.
Now, new high-risk technologies, ranging from the very small (synthetic biology, genomics, nanotechnology) to the very large (geoengineering), are rapidly developing. Their promoters promise that these technologies are key to solving climate change,
world hunger, energy shortages and biodiversity loss. The precautionary principle and social and economic impacts are often ignored in the rush to deploy the latest technofix, marketed as socially useful and cutting edge, such as “climate-smart agriculture” or “next-generation biofuels.” Without the strict application of the precautionary principle, and a transparent and participatory form of technology assessment, new technologies could wreak even more havoc on a fragile planet that is already under immense strain due to reckless and unsustainable forms of production that serve the few at the expense of the many.
This submission examines the potential impacts of synthetic biology and its relevance to
the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity: the conservation and
sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from
the utilization of genetic resources.
Synthetic biology broadly refers to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to
design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems that do not exist
in nature and the redesign of existing biological organisms. While synthetic biology
incorporates the techniques of molecular biology, it differs from recombinant DNA
SBSTTA must not defer its consideration of synthetic biology as a new and emerging issue
requiring governance. Synthetic biology is a field of rapidly growing industrial interest. A
handful of products have reached the commercial market and others are in pre-commercial
stages. OECD countries currently dominate synthetic biology R&D and deployment, but
basic and applied research is taking place in at least 36 countries worldwide. Many of the
world’s largest energy, chemical, forestry, pharmaceutical, food and agribusiness
corporations are investing in synthetic biology R&D. Current applications of synthetic
biology focus on three major product areas that depend heavily on biomass feedstock
production processes: 1) biofuels; 2) specialty and bulk chemicals; 3) natural product
he most dramatic technological transformation in history – involving information technologies, biotechnologies and engineering – has occurred since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992; during the same period, however, governments have systematically downsized or eliminated their capacity to understand science and monitor technologies. While technology has thus far played an extraordinarily prominent role in preparatory documents for Rio+20, technology’s potential contribution to sustainable development and/or new Green Economies cannot be realized as long as the world lacks trusted and transparent mechanisms – at global, regional and national levels – for technology evaluation. The absence of such mechanisms incites distrust and invites disaster.
Will a “great green technological transformation” bring about a “green economy” to help us save ourselves and our planet? Or will it serve those already controlling today’s “greed economy?” In its new report, ETC Group provides a snapshot of the state of corporate control in more than a dozen economic sectors relevant to the green economy (including seeds, energy, bioinformatics and food) and argues that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy will spur even greater convergence of corporate power and unleash the most massive resource grab in more than 500 years.
What you will find in the 'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' Report
- Naming The Green Economy's “One Percent”
'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' provides hard data on the largest and most powerful corporate players controlling 25 sectors of the 'real economy'. This is the only freely available report to assemble top 10 listings of companies (by market share) from 18 major economic sectors relevant to the Green Economy. These lists include the top 10 players in Water, Energy, Seeds, Fishing and Aquaculture, Food Retail and Processing, Chemicals, Fertilizer, Pesticides, Mining, Pharmaceuticals, Biotech, the Grain Trade and more. The report also identifies the leading players in a handful of new and emerging industrial sectors including Synthetic Biology, Big Data, Seaweed and Algae production and Livestock Genetics (pp.1-2).
This roundtable discussion with Pat Mooney was organized jointly by the What Next Forum and The Resilience and Development Programme (SwedBio) at Stockholm Resilience Centre.
All together 19 persons, with backgrounds in civil society, the Swedish Ministry for Environment, the Swedish EPA, the research community and sustainable development consultancy participated in a rich discussion, initiated and inspired by an overview by Mooney.
International effort to address the food, energy and climate crisis tend to regard technology as an important part of the solution. This optimism about technology also prevails in debates around the Green Economy and international environmental governance. And of course technology does hold some potential solutions to some important problems. However, two decades of accelerating technological development and deployment, in the context of massive trade and investment liberalization, has left the globe in far worse straits than it was when the very concept of sustainable development was in its infancy. And now, it is time for a technological te-think. New high-risk technologies, ranging from the very small (synthetic biology, nanotechnology) to the very large (geoengineering), are rapidly developing. Their promoters promise that they hold the keys to solving climate change, world hunger, energy shortages and biodiversity loss and the precautionary principle and social and economic impacs are often ignored in the rush to deploy the latest technofix.
Here's a grim prediction to chew on. This biotech craze dubbed "synthetic biology"—where hipster geeks design quirky life-forms: That technology is going to wind up costing lives—likely a lot of them. I'm not suggesting a direct kill by rogue viruses. These will be economic deaths. The dead will not be noteworthy: farmers, pastoralists, and forest dwellers who live in poor nations that depend on plant commodities.
Syn bio is feted as the next big thing, but we should be clear-eyed about what makes syn bio such a big deal and about whom it will harm. Its advocates predict that synthetic bio will lead to the "New Bioeconomy," in which we harness biology to perform tasks now accomplished by manufacturing.
The New Bioeconomy seems innocently green. It involves yeast and bacteria being repurposed as bio-factories to churn out the plastics, chemicals, and fuels we are already addicted to. Since microbes feast on plant-stuff—whether algae, wood chips, or sugar—plants would replace petroleum as the key feedstock for industrial production. The sourcing of strategic raw materials, including medicines, rubber, and oils, will shift from the hands of farmers in the global South to fermentation vats controlled by the North.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its recommendations on the oversight of synthetic biology, provoking strong criticism from public interest watchdogs for its failure to respond to key environmental and public health risks.
In a letter sent to the commission, 58 environmental, public interest, and religious groups rejected the recommendations as a deeply flawed response to advances in synthetic biology, including the creation this year of the first entirely synthetic organism, that demand strong federal oversight.
The New Biomassters - Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods is a critique of what OECD countries are calling 'the new bioeconomy.' Concerted attempts are already underway to shift industrial production feedstocks from fossil fuels to the 230 billion tones of 'biomass' (living stuff) that the Earth produces every year -not just for liquid fuels but also for production of power, chemicals, plastics and more.
Sold as an ecological switch from a ‘black carbon’ (ie fossil) economy to a ‘green carbon’ (plant-based) economy, this emerging bioeconomy is in fact a red-hot resource grab of the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of peoples in the global South, where most of that biomass is located.
Enabling the next stage of this new grab is the adoption of synthetic biology techniques (extreme genetic engineering) by a wave of high-tech companies partnering with the world’s largest energy, chemical, forestry and agribusiness corporations.