Kickstopper! Putting a Stop to Synthetic Biology Pollution

A real kicker for biodiversity.

At the end of April 2013, ETC Group learned that  three biohackers from  Singularity University in California had mounted a project on the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter. It was a plan  to carry out the worlds first environmental release of an avowedly Synthetic Biology organism - a glow-in-the dark arabidopsis plant. Shockingly the 'Glowing Plants' kickstarter project promised to mail up to 100 bioengineered seeds to anyone from the United States who gave them $40 online . To date over 4000 people expect to receive syn bio seeds in the post. The seeds, which they said would likely grow into 'glowing plants' (after all, ‘biology is complicated,’ admit the masterminds) would be the viable and reproducing products of  ‘Synthetic Biology’ - A field that has never had a deliberate release into the environment before. Even more shockingly they claim that the US Government had agreed not to regulate, assess or monitor this widespread random and nation-wide release of synthetic organisms. 

In the last few years Synthetic Biology has been gaining increasing visibility in press and policy circles. Ther have been a parade of pronouncements from expert groups, - including from the President’s bioethics commission, diplomats of the UN biodiversity convention, an EU expert group, the insurance industry etc. To date all have agreed that no synthetic organisms should yet be released into the environment without 'precaution,' 'prudent vigilance,' regulation, monitoring and other sober and sensible safeguards.  Yet now  the US government appears ready to avert its eyes . Kickstarter turns out to be the only entity to subject the world first  Syn Bio pollution project to any kind of review; sort of.  While Kickstarter's own ethical guidelines exclude the posting of projects involving  'sunglasses' or 'bath products,' promoting the world’s first uncontrolled, unmonitored and unregulated release of synthetic organisms apparently didn’t raise any red flags at Kickstarter HQ. ETC Group and Friends of the Earth have written to Kickstarter to request they cancel the project (see letter here). We have also written to the US Department of Agriculture (see letter here) and to the 'Glowing Plants' Kickstarter project creators (see letter here).


Kicking back...

What’s the solution for a world that crazy? A little Kickstarter jujitsu (kick butt?)? If the biohackers can have a Kickstarter campaign to release their glowtesque synthetic biology plants, then maybe a few sensible folks could mount their own crowd-sourced initiative to stuff the genetically engineered genie back in the bottle – or at least ensure it never makes it out of the glowing plant lab. Enter the counter-Kickstarter campaign – the Kickstopper

To kick back we are doing a little crowdfunding jujitsu. ETC Group has launched the Kickstopper campaign. To start we have launched a petition and now need to raise the money for a long term campaign to stop the biohackers in their tracks. And as part of it we are going to make a comic book - and a bit of history too.
Join us in saving the word from Synthetic Biology pollution. Become a backer of the Kickstopper campaign.

 The biggest risk is that we do nothing and let the synthetic biologists move ahead with releasing hundreds of thousands of synbio seeds, setting an eerily glowing precedent that many other commercial biotech firms and informal biohackers alike will follow - using kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites to do an end-run around oversight of risky technologies. 

We are e calling on friends and allies and all who are opposed to widepread release of synthetic organisms to help us kick back and put a stop to this syn bio pollution project. If you are interested to help fund the kickstopper initiative please visit:

and to keep in touch with teh campaign do fill in the web form below

Thank you.


Jump to: Kickstopper on IndieGogo

Further Updates and Links: 

30th April 2013 - Letter to Kickstarter requesting them to cancel the Synthetic Biology 'Glowing Plants' project.

30th April 2013 - Letter to USDA APHIS concerning the Synthetic Biology 'Glowing Plants' project.

2nd May 2013 - Letter to Synthetic Biology 'Glowing Plants'project.

7th May 2013  - The Wall Street Journal: "Glow-In-The-Dark Plant Makes Activists See Red"

7th May 2013 - Response from 'Glowing Plants' project

7th May 2013 - New York Times: A Dream of Trees Aglow at Night

9th May 2013 - Wired Uk: Glowing trees could pave the way for solving world problems with biology

10th May 2013 -Huffington Post: Biohackers Are Kickstarting Some Unregulated Experiments

24th May 2013 - Huffington Post: Genetically Engineered Trees and Glowing Synthetic Plants: No Thanks

4th June 2013 - Nature: Glowing Plants Spark Debate: Critics Irked Over Planned Release of Engineered Organism

6th June 2013 - The Guardian: Kickstarter must not fund biohackers glow-in-the-dark plants

6th June 2013 -Huffington Post: The Campaign Kickstarter Shouldn't Be Funding.

7th June 2013 - New Scientist: Do Glowing House Plants Take Gene Tinkering Too Far?

10th June 2013 - Mother Jones: Glowing Plants: Awesome Kickstarter or Creepy Biotech