Recent developments in synthetic biology could impact the $22 billion global flavour and fragrance market and the livelihoods of producers of natural commodities. These developments impact the sustainable use of biodiversity and fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the genetic resources that produce natural plant products. The worlds largest producers of food ingredients, flavors and fragrances are all now partnering with Synthetic Biology companies to develop biosynthetic versions of key high value natural commodities such as saffron, vanilla, vetiver and patchouli - replacing botanical sources.
Synthetic biology goes beyond transferring genes between species to constructing entirely new, self-replicating microorganisms that have the potential to convert any biomass or carbon feedstock into any product that can be produced by fossil carbons – plus many more.From the perspective of synthetic biology, the resource base for the development of marketable “renewable” materials (that is not from petroleum) is not the world’s commercialized 23.8 % of annual terrestrial biomass, but also the other 76.2 % of annual terrestrial biomass that has, thus far, remained outside the market economy. Synthetic biology has already attracted the attention of the United Nations and governments. The technology was on the agenda of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity that met in Hyderabad, India in mid-October 2012, with governments agreeing to continue monitoring the technology and report back to future meetings of the CBD.
Full links and background on the 2012 ocean fertilization scheme by HSRC.
In October 2012 ETC Group uncovered that a commercial geoengineering firm had quietly carried out the world's largest geoengineering deployment to-date (in July 2012). When the news became public as a result of ETC Group's investigations, it caused a wave of concern among scientists, governments, the public and of course the people of Haida Gwaii. HSRC have since said they intend to carry out further ocean fertilization dumps. On this page we have collected some of the background on the Haida Gwaii ocean fertilization episode, how the story was reported, the legal situation, the science and more.
A briefing for delegates to CBD COP11
In October 2010 in Nagoya, Parties to the CBD adopted a landmark decision to place a moratorium on the testing and deployment of geoengineering technologies (Decision X/33 para 8w) – recognising the particular threat to biodiversity and livelihoods. That moratorium marked the first time an international body had begun to establish oversight over this new field.
From 8th - 19th October 2012 the CBD will be meeting again at COP11 at Hyderabad India. ETC Group proposes that parties meeting in Hyderabad adopt an “ABC” of precaution:
At COP 11, government negotiators will be asked to consider bringing a new and emerging area of industrial activity under the oversight of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Synthetic Biology is a burgeoning technological field that builds artificial genetic systems and programmes lifeforms for industrial use. It urgently requires effective governance. This briefing details ten key points to consider.
Plant-derived Ingredients and Synthetic Biology
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.
The Case for Technology Assessment
An efficient, transparent pathway for technological advancement would save national governments time and money while reducing risk. Those proposing new technologies and their backers seek to minimize risk. Especially, re-insurers and investors welcome steps that make government intervention and/or public responses predictable.
It is said that no one can predict the past but had the UN maintained its monitoring capacity over the last two decades – and had civil society been vigilant – the world might have saved itself billions of dollars, millions of lives, and much time. Find in this briefing some post-Rio (1992) examples…
So-called “green technology” is now a major feature of the Rio+20 “green economy” vision. G-77 countries are, understandably, focused on facilitated access to useful technologies that can contribute to sustainable development; the best way to make sure the right technologies are transferred to the right places in the right way is to subject them to meaningful assessment. An emphasis on the positive potential of new technologies requires a concomitant emphasis on a strengthened global, regional and national capacity to monitor and assess technologies. Anything less will incite distrust and invite disaster. Powerful new technologies (such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geoengineering) are being proposed and promoted without prior evaluation and no regulation. If technology assessment is deemed too costly or time-consuming, we are likely to find that the cost of not assessing technologies is even greater.
The Case for Technology Assessment
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.