Synthetic biology was one of the themes discussed at the Assises du vivant, a forum organized jointly by UNESCO and the French NGO Vivagora in Paris on 30 November. Synthetic biology is still in its infancy but it has great ambitions: to create entirely new life forms. Borrowing techniques from engineering, the synthetic biologist assembles different parts (genes) to build an entirely new circuit. At the Assises du vivant, one proponent suggested that synthetic bacteria could be designed to glow whenever they detected explosives in the soil, alerting to buried anti-personnel mines. Others cited the potential for synthetic biofuels, biodegradable plastics and cancer drugs. But some participants were more circumspect. ‘Have the necessary safeguards been put in place? ‘, they asked. ‘Could existing organisms not fulfill the same role? Do we know how existing species will interact with these new life forms of our own creation? And what guarantee is there that they will function in the way we intended? We put these questions to Eric Hoffman, a science and technology policy expert with the US branch of the NGO Friends of the Earth.
[See the interview here]
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