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Current Activities

Background

At their fourteenth meeting, in decision 14/19, the Conference of the Parties agreed on a need for regular horizon-scanning of the most recent technological developments for reviewing new information regarding potential impacts of synthetic biology. The COP called upon Parties to apply a precautionary approach, taking into account the current uncertainties regarding engineered gene drives and to only consider introducing organisms containing engineered gene drives into the environment under specific criteria. COP-14 further called upon Parties to continue to develop or implement measures to prevent or minimize potential adverse effects arising from exposing the environment to organisms, components and products of synthetic biology in contained use with special consideration to the centres of origin and genetic diversity.

Furthermore, COP extended the AHTEG on synthetic biology, taking into account the work under risk assessment under the Cartagena protocol, with new terms of reference as annexed to decision 14/19, and extended also the open-ended online forum to support the work of the AHTEG.

In light of these decisions, the Secretariat has developed this page to support the implementation of the decision and to host online discussions of the forum.

 
   
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Topic 1: New technological developments in synthetic biology since the last meeting of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group


Discussions will be held from 4 to 10 March 2019
Discussions open and close at 1:00 a.m. GMT

Topic moderated by Mrs. Maria de Lourdes Torres

This discussion will focus on taking stock of new technological developments in synthetic biology since the last meeting of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) in 2017. (The report is provided as background document for this discussion)

In the above-mentioned report, an open-ended list of new developments is presented. I invite you to take a look at this list in order to recall previous conversations. We could consider this list as a baseline and a starting point to analyze how progress has been made in the different areas, and to review which new developments have been made in recent years.

Some questions that could guide our discussion during this forum could be:

• Which concrete applications of genome editing related to synthetic biology have been made recently?

• What new developments are known—related to the synthesis of whole genomes and chromosomes—that could have a real impact on biodiversity?

• Can we report on the progress of engineered gene drives in sexually reproducing organisms? Do we know about new applications of this technology?

It is important to keep in mind that there is a need to analyze these new developments, considering the speed at which synthetic biology advances and how these could impact biodiversity and human health.

Participants are encouraged to provide information on new technological developments that have been produced or that are in the pipeline.

When posting this information, participants are requested to provide their source of information, indicating if it is coming from a publication, their own work, or other type of source.

Thank you, Moderator

Background document for this discussion:
Report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology
Report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology

Topic 1: New technological developments in synthetic biology since the last meeting of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group

This Forum is closed.

Topic 2: Recommend options for carrying out the regular horizon scanning, monitoring and assessing of developments referred to in para 3 of decision 14/19


Discussions will be held from 4 to 10 March 2019
Discussions open and close at 1:00 a.m. GMT

Topic moderated by Mr. Casper Linnestad

In November 2018 the Parties to the Convention agreed that a broad and regular horizon scanning, monitoring and assessing of the most recent technological developments is needed for reviewing new information regarding the potential positive and potential negative impacts of synthetic biology vis-à-vis the three objectives of the Convention.

Under this topic’s discussion, participants are encouraged to provide information that could be useful to analyse how the horizon scanning process should be carried out. The CBD may use a variety of "tools" in this regard, among them, inviting Parties and others for submissions, making information available through Biosafety Clearing-House, arranging online fora and establishing Ad Hoc Technical Expert Groups (AHTEGs) in order to feed into the further deliberations of the SBSTTA. However, there may also be other suitable ways and mechanisms.

Some guiding points and questions:

• What are suitable steps in a horizon scanning process?

• Cost-effective and effective mechanisms are always preferable.

• How to secure input from relevant sources in a timely manner?

Participants are kindly requested to be as specific as possible, and to provide information on putative steps for the process and important aspects to be considered. Sharing experiences on how similar processes have been done elsewhere could also help the discussion.

Thank you, Moderator

Topic 2: Recommend options for carrying out the regular horizon scanning, monitoring and assessing of developments referred to in para. 3 of decision 14/19

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    Synbio online forum- Welcome message from moderators
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Topic 3: Review of the current state of knowledge


Discussions will be held from 11 to 17 March 2019
Discussions open and close at 1:00 a.m. GMT

Topic moderated by Mr. Casper Linnestad

This discussion will focus on undertaking a review of the current state of knowledge by analysing information, including but not limited to peer-reviewed published literature, on the potential positive and negative environmental impacts of current and near-future applications of synthetic biology, including those applications that involve organisms containing engineered gene drives. The discussion should also take into account human health, cultural and socio-economic impacts, especially with regard to the value of biodiversity to indigenous peoples and local communities.

Also for this topic, participants are asked to share as much information as possible, including articles, and other materials. A good review is dependent on relevant and high-quality input. Synthesis of data is an important step when reviewing the current state of knowledge. Lack of knowledge may also be a relevant factor.

Some guiding points and questions:

• How do we get the "right picture", the current state of knowledge?

• Probably, there are mixed views on what is the "right picture".

• How to obtain an influx of relevant information from a good variety of sources?

Thank you, Moderator

Topic 3: Review of the current state of knowledge

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    welcome message-Topic 3
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Topic 4: Possible impacts of synthetic biology applications that are in early stages of research and development on the three objectives of the Convention

Discussions will be held from 11 to 17 March 2019
Discussions open and close at 1:00 a.m. GMT

Topic moderated by Mrs. Maria de Lourdes Torres

This discussion will focus on possible impacts of synthetic biology applications that are in early stages of research and development, on the three objectives of the Convention. This will support the deliberations of the AHTEG on the preparation of a forward-looking report as per item (e) of its terms of reference.

Considering that organisms, components and products of synthetic biology could pose positive and negative impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, the aim of this forum is to point out some of these impacts and share evidence or information that supports these potential impacts.

I propose the sharing of new information related to this topic; for example, what information exists related to organisms that have been developed to contain engineered gene drives, in the light of the impacts that such organisms might have on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity?

Can we envisage some positive or negative impacts of the use of organisms, components and products of synthetic biology? Is there any evidence that support these impacts?

Your contributions will promote an enriching discussion on these topics that are vitally important when speaking of synthetic biology in light of the three objectives of the Convention.

When posting the information, participants are requested to provide their source of information, indicating if it is coming from a publication, their own work, or other type of source.

Thank you, Moderator

Topic 4: Possible impacts of synthetic biology applications that are in early stages of research and development on the three objectives of the Convention

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Topic 5: Consider whether any living organism developed thus far through new developments in synthetic biology fall outside the definition of living modified organisms as per the Cartagena Protocol


Discussions will be held from 18 to 24 March 2019
Discussions open and close at 1:00 a.m. GMT

Topic moderated by Mr. Casper Linnestad

Participants are kindly requested to provide examples of synthetic biology organisms (if any), and discuss why these may fall outside the definition of living modified organisms as per the Cartagena Protocol.

Please bear in mind that Parties may have different definitions on LMOs according to their national legislation, and also, that genome edited organisms may be regulated differently.

To facilitate the discussion, the definition of living modified organism as per the Protocol is "...any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology”.

Modern Biotechnology is defined by the Cartagena Protocol as "…the application of:

a. In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or

b. Fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection”.

Thanks, Moderator

Topic 5: Consider whether any living organism developed thus far through new developments in synthetic biology fall outside the definition of living modified organisms as per the Cartagena Protocol

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    Welcome message - synbio forum - topic 5
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Topic 6: Sharing of experiences on detection, identification and monitoring of organisms, components and products of synthetic biology


Discussions will be held from 18 to 24 March 2019
Discussions open and close at 1:00 a.m. GMT

Topic moderated by Mrs. Maria de Lourdes Torres

Under this topic’s discussion, participants are encouraged to share information related to experiences with the detection, identification and monitoring of organisms, components and products of synthetic biology.

Participants are kindly requested to be as specific as possible, and to provide examples of methodologies and strategies related to this forum's topic. The development, adaptation or use of existing tools for the detection, identification and monitoring of organisms, components and products of synthetic biology are key issues to be discussed. It would be important to share how these procedures are being performed or planned to be implemented. The outputs of discussion could help in the understanding of these matters.

Some guiding questions could be:

• Which tools are currently available for detecting, identifying and monitoring organisms, components and products of synthetic biology?

• Does the novelty that some organisms, components and products of synthetic biology might present, require the development of additional detection, identification and monitoring tools, other than those that already exist?

• Could the current analytical techniques be used to distinguish between products of synthetic biology and their naturally occurring or chemically synthesized counterparts?

When posting this information, participants are requested to provide their source of information, indicating if it is coming from a publication, their own work, or other type of source.

Thank you, Moderator

Topic 6: Sharing of experiences on detection, identification and monitoring of organisms, components and products of synthetic biology

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    Welcome message - synbio forum - topic 6
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Topic 7: Relationship between synthetic biology and the criteria set out in decision IX/29


Discussions will be held from 25 to 29 March 2019
Discussions open and close at 1:00 a.m. GMT

Topic moderated by Mr. Casper Linnestad and Mrs. Maria de Lourdes Torres

This discussion will focus on providing information on the relationship between synthetic biology and the criteria set out in decision IX/29, paragraph 12, in order to contribute to the completion of the assessment requested in decision XII/24 (New and emerging issues: synthetic biology).

The Conference of the Parties has underlined the importance of reducing the number of agenda items for consideration in order to improve the effectiveness of its proceedings (decision VIII/10, para 14). The Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) is to identify new and emerging issues related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The following list of criteria (decision IX/29, para 12) should be used for identifying new and emerging issues:

(a) Relevance of the issue to the implementation of the objectives of the Convention and its existing programmes of work;

(b) New evidence of unexpected and significant impacts on biodiversity;

(c) Urgency of addressing the issue/imminence of the risk caused by the issue to the effective implementation of the Convention as well as the magnitude of actual and potential impact on biodiversity;

(d) Actual geographic coverage and potential spread, including rate of spread, of the identified issue relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;

(e) Evidence of the absence or limited availability of tools to limit or mitigate the negative impacts of the identified issue on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;

(f) Magnitude of actual and potential impact of the identified issue on human well-being;

(g) Magnitude of actual and potential impact of the identified issue on productive sectors and economic well-being as related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

When making your intervention, please indicate which of the subparagraph(s) (the ones listed above) you are referring to.

Please note that, as of yet, there is no further guidance on how to apply these criteria.

Prior to SBSTTA-22 in 2018, the Secretariat prepared an information paper based on the reports from the AHTEG on synthetic biology and grouped elements of the AHTEG reports according to the seven criteria.

Thank you, Moderator

Background document for this discussion:
Analysis against the Criteria set out in paragraph 12 of Decision IX/29
Analysis against the Criteria set out in paragraph 12 of Decision IX/29

Topic 7: Relationship between synthetic biology and the criteria set out in decision IX/29

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