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Past Activities 2014-2016

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The Nature, Transformational Power and Impacts of Synthetic Biology (on Topics 1 to 3) [#6952]
I have learnt a lot this week with all the excellent contributions from many colleagues who are expressing their knowledge, experiences and perceptions on the impressive area of Synthetic Biology and its unprecedent transformational power. Many thanks for that.

I would like to say that I absolutely agree with Dr. Rech from EMBRAPA Brazil on the fact that the new genomic technologies represent an excellent opportunity for continuing the domestication of native genes, in the sense that we can modify allelic frequencies, optimize gene and proteins functions, and even edit those genes of interest.

I also believe that when we finally reach a kind of “consensus” about the definition of Synthetic Biology  we will probably realize that we should particularize Synthetic Biology as a revolutionary “discontinuity” with the precedent ways of improving biological species, their products and processes.

In this sense, Synthetic Biology is not a continuity of the development and application of new techniques only. Synthetic Biology will transform the way we deal with Biotechnology due to the fact that we will be able (in fact we are able, already) to converge technological processes to the essence of biological manipulation, say, the processing of Information.

It is very clear that this convergence will reach a brand new optimum when biological computation (in the essence, a biological cell is a processor ) will make use of concepts and protocols from mechanical engineering and artificial intelligence.

In a unprecedent way , Biology is being dematerialized, an I see these new human abilities as a powerful expression of simultaneous biological and cultural evolution. Our responsibility, as per the mandate of CBD, is to offer options and solutions related to the potential impact of these new biological products, devices, processes, data, bits and similar outcomes. 

As examples, terms adopted by CBD, Biosafety Protocol and Nagoya Protocol, like “Biotechnology” and “naturallly ocurring”, seems in need of urgent review in face of the conceptual and applied power of RECODING. In fact, Recoding has the potential to take us  back to the old conceptual territory of the “universal access to genetic resources”, since no Party would be able to reinvindicate the Genetic Code as their “territorial” property.

Another powerful example is the current capacity of setting heterologous metabolic engineering’ processes in different regions, exchanging “synthetic” genomic data as a biological programming language among these brand new industrial corporations.

In this sense, the first part of the comments presented by Dr. Steven Evans from Dow, as well as Dr. Quemada’s views, represent excellent language when describing the nature and capacities of Synthetic Biology.

In terms of how to adress the relationship between synthetic biology and biological diversity:

Reading the recent contributions of our colleagues Dr. Rojas Beltran ad Dr. Cristoph Then, came to my mind that would be probabily useful to revisit that superb classic text “Genetics and the Origin of Species (Theodosius Dobzhansky; Columbia University Press, 1941) in order to clarify some basic concepts about Evolution, unfortunately almost erased by all the fuss around Biotech, Biodiversity, Extinction and so on.

On pages 337 and 338, Professor Dobzhansky introduces the knowledge of another impressive geneticist,  Professor Sewall Wright, who deals with fundamental images about the evolutionary space, reminding us that some gene combinations have never been formed and tried out, also considering the reasons why certain adaptive gene combination are prevented along the evolutionary processes. There is an impressive ”empty space” of opportunities for evolution to explore the potential of new genotypes while allowing the extinction of many others. And we should pay due attention to the recent evidences about the influence of Stochasticity in Biological Evolution as well.

In this sense, Synthetic Biology represents the continuation of the exploration of the space of genetic opportunities. Synthetic Biology needs to be (after being defined ) considered under the rules of Evolution, not only under the rules of Biosafety, no matter how important these rules are for the environment, human and animal health and so on.  In this sense, I consider the comments of Dr. Dana (US Dept of State) very useful, in terms of reaching an equilibrium between the new evolutionary step we cal Synthetic Biology and the recommended risk assessment and risk analysis.

I would suggest that a combination of  proposals for defining Synthetic Biology, provided by Dr. Freemont, Dr. Rosales Franco and  Dr. Kuiken could be merged with a stricto senso definition of Synthetic Biology:

“Synthetic biology aims to de novo designing, programming and engineering   biologically based parts, devices, systems and properties.

This would enhance the perception about the transformational capacity of Synthetic Biology and would be useful for evaluating any unprecedent impact on biodiversity. All other technological procedures we have been applying to identify, isolate and recombine genetic information present in natural ocurring biological systems would be considered as the continuation of the Biotechnology development under the current rules of the Cartagena Protocol.
posted on 2015-05-03 22:12 UTC by Mr. Joaquim A. Machado, Brazil