Synthetic biology could impact the $22 billion global flavour and fragrance market and the livelihoods of producers of natural commodities. The world's 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. These in turn are just a few our of hundreds of economically important natural plant compounds whose production may be switched to synthetic biology production in a very short time frame.
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Known for its musty, woody scent, vetiver oil is also know for its fixative qualities, which means that it helps a fragrance to last longer after it is applied to the skin. Vetiver oil can be detected in the “base notes” of many perfumes or colognes. A synthetic biology company has engineered microbes to produce chemical compounds aimed at replacing traditional Vetiver production, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of farmers in Haiti, Indonesia, China, India, Japan and Brazil, among others.
New developments in synthetic biology could have far-reaching impacts on the market for biodiversity-derived natural products and the livelihoods of those who produce them. Cosmetic giants like Unilver and L’Oreal can source squalene from plant sources (olive oil, amaranth seeds, wheat germ, etc.) instead of harvesting the livers of 6 million deep sea sharks per year. This is a positive development. Now, Amyris is producing squalene from engineered microbes in fermentation tanks that are fueled by biomass – up to two million tons of crushed sugarcane annually. Who decides what is the most sustainable and socially just use of biomass and farmland?
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, cosmetics, essential oils, etc). The Convention on Biological Diversity is the most appropriate forum to address this new and emerging issue.
Unlucky 13: Our 2012 year-end review, “193 Shades of Gray,” stumbled into the surreal, post-Rio+20 “Hunger Games” as FAO admitted that it has been underestimating the number of hungry people and overestimating future food requirements and, in a cowardly act of conspicuous consumption, the UN Committee on World Food Security failed to condemn biofuels; Warsaw withered the way of every climate conference since Kyoto; the USA, UK, China and Russia significantly underestimated GHG emissions while the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Australia concluded that they just don’t give a dam
ETC Group and Friends of the Earth are launching a public design and branding competition to shine a spotlight on synthetic biology (extreme genetic engineering) in our food. Use your creativity to help us expose the very un-natural new ingredient coming to a confection near you, and what it means for vanilla farmers.
As early as next year, a new ingredient straight out of a petri dish could enter our favorite foods – from ice cream to apple pie. It’s a ‘vanilla-like’ flavor produced via a new extreme genetic engineering technology called ‘synthetic biology.’ No government anywhere in the world has taken steps to assess or regulate this technology, yet its imminent arrival on the commercial market may threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of tropical vanilla farmers and their families in countries such as Madagascar and Mexico.
This new vanilla flavor exists nowhere in nature, but the companies behind it are confident it deserves a 'natural flavor' label. ETC Group and Friends of the Earth believe that would be misleading and that consumers need to know the real story behind this novel, genetically engineered ingredient.
Only 10 days left to make a contribution to ETC Group's fundraising campaign to stop the release of synbiotech seeds ! Huge thanks to those who have already contributed.
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.
Background: At a recent Synthetic Biology Conference in Cambridge UK, Synthetic Biologist Jay Keasling announced that the consortium he was working with now intend to replace the entire global supply of artemisinin (an anti-malarial compound) with their new synthetic-biology derived version.
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.
There is less than a day to go before the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com hands hundreds of thousands of dollars to a controversial project for the widespread and unregulated distribution of over half a million extreme-bioengineered seeds. Kickstarter, which stands to make over $22,000 from the project (1), has steadfastly refused to comment on its listing of a project to make and distribute ‘glowing genetically modified plants’ using Synthetic Biology.
From: Antony Evans
Date: May 7, 2013 1:34:33 PM EDT
Subject: Re: Request to Cancel the Kickstarter Synthetic Biology ‘Glowing Plants’ project.
Dear Jim Thomas and Eric Hoffman,
Thank you for your interest in our project and taking the time to write to us with your concerns. Please allow me to clarify and expand upon a few key points.
2 May 2013 Dear Antony Evans,
Request to Cancel the Kickstarter Synthetic Biology ʻGlowing Plantsʼ project.
We are writing to express our concern, in the strongest possible terms, about the project you have listed on Kickstarter, which, as currently advertised, will likely result in widespread, random and uncontrolled release of bioengineered seeds and plants produced with synthetic biology techniques. We respectfully request that this project, which poses real world risks to the environment, be abandoned as currently described.
April 30, 2013
1400 Independence Avenue,
SW Room 1147
Washington DC 20250
Ms. Bethany Jones:
155 Rivington St.
New York, NY 10002
30th April 2013
Dear Perry Chen, Charles Adler and Yancey Strickler:
Request for Kickstarter to cancel the Synthetic Biology ‘Glowing Plant: Natural Lighting with No Electricity’ project
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. 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.
ETC Group is now mounting a counter-kickstarter campaign: - the Kickstopper! Read how you can be part of it.