Synthetic biologists, a brave new breed of science entrepreneurs who engineer life-forms from scratch, will hold their largest-ever global gathering in Hong Kong, October 10-12 2008, known as "Synthetic Biology 4.0." Although most people have never heard of synthetic biology, it's moving full speed ahead fueled by giant agribusiness, energy and chemical corporations with little debate about who will control the technology, how it will be regulated (or not) and despite grave concerns surrounding the safety and security risks of designer organisms. Corporate investors/partners include BP, Chevron, Shell, Virgin Fuels, DuPont, Microsoft, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.
Stalled at the eleventh hour by three isolated countries that are attempting to block consensus, most of the world’s environment ministries and others are on the brink of reaching agreement on a worldwide moratorium on commercial ocean fertilization – controversial proposals to dump nutrients in the ocean to artificially alter the climate. The three blocking countries, Australia, China and Brazil have spent several days manipulating the process to avoid discussion and prevent progress, much to the exasperation of delegates and observers. The clock runs out on negotiations at 6pm today (30. May 2008).
Today (21. May 2008) the world learned which corporations, governments, institutions and individuals earned a spot in biopiracy’s hall of shame when the Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) announced the winners of the 5th Captain Hook Awards at a lunch-time ceremony during the Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Bonn, Germany.
A report released by Canadian-based civil society organization, ETC Group, reveals that the world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses associated with climate change - including drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more. ETC Group's report warns that - rather than a solution for confronting climate change - the promise of so-called "climate-ready" crops will be used to drive farmers and governments onto a proprietary biotech platform.
The infamous Enola bean patent, first denounced by ETC Group eight years ago as a textbook case of biopiracy, was struck down yesterday (April 29, 2008) by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. One of the most controversial plant patents in history, the effort to defeat it was unprecedented because it involved the United Nations and international plant breeding institutes.
What's the most scandalous case of biopiracy in your country? Who's ripping off indigenous knowledge in your community? Which privateer is most egregiously pillaging the global commons for profit? Who's monopolizing your genes or patenting your plants?
Nominate your least favorite pirate for a 2008 Captain Hook Award. All outrageous achievements in biopiracy deserve recognition!
Nominate your most admired biopiracy-resistor for a 2008 Cog Award. All those who have fought off biopirates, defeated predatory patents or otherwise foiled the nefarious plots of fiendish privateers deserve recognition. (Cog Awards are so-named because cogs were ships designed to repel pirate attacks.)
ETC Group renewed its call for a moratorium on the release and commercialization of synthetic organisms, asserting that societal debate on the oversight of synthetic biology is urgently overdue. The renewed call came as J. Craig Venter’s research team announced that it has constructed a bacterial-length synthetic genome in the lab using mail-order synthetic DNA sequences. They’ve named the synthetic genome, Mycoplasma genitalium JCVI-1.0, and it’s similar to its counterpart in nature, a genital bacterium with the smallest known genome of any free living organism. The announcement is not breaking news because the work had been previously reported, but the details were published today in Science.
Now that you can drive your ‘nano’ car, listening to your iPod ‘nano’ while wearing ‘nano’ sunscreen and ‘nano’ clothing, the UK’s largest organic certifier has just introduced the perfect nano-antidote – a ‘nano-free’ standard for consumer products. The Soil Association – one of the world’s pioneers of organic agriculture – announced today that it is has banned human-made nanomaterials from the organic cosmetics, foods and textiles that it certifies. (1)
As the ninth meeting of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) draws to a close in Bonn, Germany the world’s governments are set to unanimously agree a wide-ranging “de-facto moratorium” on ocean fertilization activities. This first-ever global decision on a geo-engineering technology should spell the end of commercial plans to sequester carbon dioxide by dumping nutrients into the open ocean. Nonetheless, one ocean fertilization company, Climos Inc. of San Francisco, appears to be moving full steam ahead in defiance of international consensus.
“The message from the UN Biodiversity Convention is clear. The world does not want commercial ocean fertilization and companies like Climos should be looking for another occupation,” says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group, who is in Bonn at the negotiations. “Ocean fertilization could lead to toxic tides, lifeless waters and disrupted ecosystems and livelihoods. There is unanimous agreement among the 191 countries here that it is absolutely the wrong way to tackle climate change.”
ETC Group exposed the Venter Institute’s controversial patent applications on the world’s first human-made living organism built entirely from synthetic DNA (dubbed “Synthia” by ETC Group). Newly published patent claims reveal an even bigger grab for ownership of synthetic life.