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Current Activities of the Online Forum on Synthetic Biology

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Midpoint of our discussion [#8671]
Dear Participants,

Thank you for presenting different and interesting views during this discussion. It has been a pleasure but also a challenge for me to read all your contributions.

Currently, we are past the midpoint of our discussion and, so far, while many of the contributions have been made on issues relevant to synthetic biology in general, most interventions have not been directly relevant to the topic we should have been focusing on during this discussion. I would like to remind you that our topic of discussion, as mandated by the COP decision, is "evidence of benefits and adverse effects of organisms, components, and products of synthetic biology vis-à-vis the three objectives of the Convention".

A few examples of evidence of benefits and adverse effects were provided during the discussion, such as the influence of the use of GM crops on pesticide use, how modified mosquitoes suppress Aedes aegypti populations and changes to biodiversity resulting from the use of GM crops. Another issue that has been heavily debated is the potential effects of gene drives on biodiversity.

I have no doubt that we can do even better in providing additional evidence of benefits and adverse effects of the organisms, components and products of synthetic biology with the inclusion of references (journal articles, websites, etc.) to support these and other claims of evidence.

I would also like to stress to participants that the scope of the discussion includes organisms, as well as components and products of synthetic biology. This scope, that includes “components” and “products” (as non-living entities), was mandated by the COP as part of the work of the AHTEG, therefore, I hope that there will be no further comments calling for otherwise.

During the remaining few days of the discussion, I would urge you to focus on the topic of our discussion in order to provide an efficient mechanism to support the upcoming work of the AHTEG.

This discussion will close on Monday 31 July at 1 a.m. GMT so I urge you to make contributions that are focused and relevant to the topic of discussion soon!

Furthermore, I hope to prepare a summary of the interventions, focusing primarily on those that were within the scope of this discussion, soon after the closing of the discussion.

I am very grateful for your time and dedication,

M. Andrea
posted on 2017-07-26 19:02 UTC by Ms. María Andrea Orjuela Restrepo, Mexico
This is a reply to 8671 RE: Midpoint of our discussion [#8673]
POSTED ON BEHALF OF Mr. Jean Roger Rakotoarijaona
First of all, I thank the Secretariat for the opportunity to participate to this forum and Maria Andrea for moderating this discussion. My name is Jean-Roger Rakotoarijaona, I work for the Office National pour l'Environnement of Madagascar. I serve as BCH natiobal focal point.
I would like to turn back on the links of synbio to the 3rd objective of the CDB which is The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
There is an evidence on social impacts of synthetising and replacing natural plants through biotechnology. Hundreds of millions of people from developing countries suffer from the consequences of synthetic biology especially because of biopiracy. Everyone knows what happened with vanillin in vanilla producing countries as Madagascar.
I already posted an alert on this problem at the synbio forum on 2015, but it was not sufficiently echoed neither on 2015 nor at the current discussion.
So, what I propose is to introduce the concept of loss and damage to control and punish the biopiracy. Of course,  this can be done with or without agreed definition of synbio. Rights of source countries and local people and communities should be taken into account when commercial benefits are earned at their depends.
posted on 2017-07-27 13:12 UTC by Ms. Melissa Willey, UNEP/SCBD/Biosafety
This is a reply to 8671 RE: Midpoint of our discussion [#8698]
Dear all,

Coming in at the end of this topic, I’d like to thank all the participants for the broad and deep discussion. My comment is specifically to the decision facing our moderator in how to summarize this discussion. In her midway comment (#8671), Ms. Orjuela noted that her summary would focus on the comments that kept within this topic’s scope of “evidence of benefits and adverse effects.” I would like to suggest that the summary also reflect a significant aspect of the past two weeks’ discussion – debate over exactly those terms.

This topic’s scope was likely set with the idea of collecting an evidentiary base for the AHTEG’s deliberations. To me, the discussion has also (if not more so) provided the contours of an important debate around what constitutes sufficient evidence. Mr. Winter’s list of questions (#8690) highlight pertinent points for the AHTEG as it considers what evidence exists, what counts as evidence, and what to make of gaps or lacks in evidence. This forum’s discussion displayed why these are relevant and important questions, as they lead to different approaches to the question of what is “precautionary” decision-making.

As the AHTEG explores these questions, I would suggest the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ 2012 report “Emerging biotechnologies: technology, choice, and the public good,” (http://nuffieldbioethics.org/project/emerging-biotechnologies), and particularly their discussion around the “procedural virtue” of caution. They recommend that, as uncertainty and ambiguity increase, more attention should be given to gathering a diversity of relevant knowledges, engaging a plurality of different perspectives, exploring a variety of potential scenarios, and interrogating a range of alternative options. I see the Open-Ended Online Forum as an example of just such a broadening of voices and types of evidence. The AHTEG may find this report’s suggestions, based on social science research, helpful in considering how to make sense of and build from the evidence gathered in this process.
posted on 2017-07-30 14:32 UTC by Ms. Deborah Scott, University of Edinburgh
This is a reply to 8698 RE: Midpoint of our discussion [#8701]
Very briefly, I would like to support the contribution of my colleague Deborah Scott (#8698) regarding the reports of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics which are a source of much wisdom, in this case their report on Biofuels: Ethical Issues (https://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Biofuels_ethical_issues_FULL-REPORT_0.pdf). This report proposed five ethical principles that should be observed in the development of biofuels, along with a sixth balancing principle, "If the first five Principles are respected and if biofuels can play a crucial role in
mitigating dangerous climate change then, depending on additional key
considerations, there is a duty to develop such biofuels".
I see this as very relevant to the discussions in this Online Forum.
Yours, Joyce Tait
posted on 2017-07-30 16:11 UTC by Ms. Joyce Tait, University of Edinburgh
This is a reply to 8701 RE: Midpoint of our discussion [#8702]
Dear All

I have seen several references to the US NAS report “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects” (2016).

I would just like to make you aware of the findings on conflicts of interest (COI) published by Krimsky & Schwab (2017) in PLOSONE.

These findings raise questions about whether the results presented in the report have been influenced by stakeholders with interests in the commercialisation of the relevant products.

I think in general that we all are aware that interests in the commercialisation of the relevant products and technologies very often lead to a strong bias within the discussion about their risks and benefits. I think, we as a group, should have an interest in naming these interests if they come up in our discussion.

With kind regards

Christoph Then
posted on 2017-07-30 20:15 UTC by Mr. Christoph Then, Testbiotech
This is a reply to 8702 RE: Midpoint of our discussion Christoph Then [#8705]
I thank Christoph Then for bringing up a PLoS article by Krimsky & Schwab (2017) that criticized the US National Academies report, "Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects" as being unreliable because of committee member conflicts of interest. This post by Christoph reminds me that it is important to provide more detail on criticism of the report from those who are advocates for less regulation of engineered crops as well as those who feel that the US National Academies reports are biased by alliances with corporations.
        As chair of the National Academies' committee on GE Crops, I would like to bring to your attention a set of published papers about this issue (attached). Most importantly, a commentary on the report titled "National Academies report has broad support" that was authored by leaders from 15 diverse academic societies.
       Also, please read the following two articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
posted on 2017-07-30 23:41 UTC by Mr. Fred Gould, North Carolina State University
This is a reply to 8705 RE: Midpoint of our discussion Christoph Then [#8712]
Dear Members
The “evidences” supported arguments are insufficient to state “all is well”.
1. Insufficient to state that they are not deteriorating the biological diversity as impacts analyzed over decades are not enough where the ecosystem or the biodiversity took millions of years to establish.
2. Insufficient to prove safe as products of synthetic biology are dominant in nature and they cover the complete territory. Hence it will become monoculture by intentional or unintentional means rather than providing space for sustainable use of the components of biological diversity.
3. The original sources are never revealed and there is incomplete track record to complete the ABS especially in terms of “genetic material”/ “Germplasm” as well as the “digital sequences” leading to unfair and unequal sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
posted on 2017-07-31 05:34 UTC by Ms. Jeshima k Yasin, India