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Past Activities 2014-2016

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ON TOPIC 6 [#7330]
As per this topic  6, where we would expect some convergences after all the rich and profitable previous discussions, I support Dr. Acevedo's views on the adequacy of current legislations, with regards the Synthetic Biology as we have now, drawing our capacities and efforts on forecasting the scenario of the convergence of Artificial Biology and Artificial Intelligence. Excellent literature about the scientific, technical, ethical and aesthetical scenarios of this upcoming coevolutionary step is available.

On the other hand, t is somehow comfortable to assign to the upcoming futures on  Synthetic Biology scenarios, categories like  the "magnitude of the problem", without defining the term "problem".

We should remember that impacts are ever associated to new technologies; however, visiting the past history, we could not precisely assign to antibiotics and pharma & general synthetic chemistry the category of a problem. Nevertheless, I support the suggestion of Dr. Lozan about a profitable and concise dialogue among the ATHEGs SynBio, Risk Assesment and Socio Economic Considerations, as we could enrich our views and recommendations.

I support the comments and views provided by Dr. Wouters.

Wish you all the best,

Joaquim
posted on 2015-06-29 14:14 UTC by Mr. Joaquim A. Machado, Brazil
This is a reply to 7330 RE: ON TOPIC 6 [#7362]
Topic 6:  Adequacy of existing instruments to regulate organisms, components or products derived from synthetic biology.

I thank the Secretariat and Moderator for this final round of discussion.  We in this discussion group have a profound responsibility and opportunity. 

Judging from what I have read from this group so far, my views will be in the minority.  Nevertheless, as one trained and practiced in population issues rather in laboratory research, I hope my contribution will prove useful.  I appreciate the UN Environmental Program policy on recognizing diverging viewpoints (16 May 2014 UNEP Proposed Procedures...IV G).  This policy should lead to a healthy, robust report.

Regarding the Moderator’s first question (Which instruments exist?), CBD Tech. Series 82, Part II summarizes the instruments well [with the addition of the 1925 Geneva Protocol as pointed out by Regalado (#7321)].  As noted in CBD TS 82, p. 68, since synthetic biology itself has not been addressed by the treaties noted and since this discussion has often found synthetic biology to be a “step change” in biotechnology, systematic rules should be formulated as soon as possible to guide the appropriate development of this field.  Christopher Then in #7221 offers substantial justification for rule-based regulation.  So does the dictionary definition of “regulate” — control by means of rules and regulations.

Regarding the Moderator’s second question (“Are these instruments adequate to address…the objectives of the Convention and its Protocols?”), I say with confidence they are not adequate. 

The first-stated objective of the Convention is “the conservation of biodiversity.” 
Yet, the world continues to experience a profound loss of biodiversity (Living Planet Report 2014; WWF, Zool Soc London, Global Footprint Network, Water Footprint Network)—a 52% decrease in the Living Planet Index between1970 and 2010 (a 13% loss per decade). Yet existing international instruments to regulate biodiversity do not even provide for its monitoring. 

Moreover, the CBD defines biodiversity as including “diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”   Thus, counting the proportion of species lost without also assessing ecosystems does not adequately monitor biodiversity.  The last global assessment of ecosystems was the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  Thus, we lack the basic tools to frame how synthetic biology should be contributing to the first objective of the CBD!  CBD instruments need to correct this.

The overall task of this Discussion Group is not, ‘How to make the world safe for synthetic biology?” but “How to make synthetic biology safe for the world?”  Existing
instruments that now apply to synthetic biology address the direct and most likely risks.
As noted in CBD Tech. Series 82 (p 38), “there has been a tendency among
governments to respond to synthetic biology as if it represents only identifiable and
measurable risks.”  Where is the provision for direct risks not yet identified by those engaged in this very young technology?

Indirect risks may be even more important than direct ones.  Not only have humans consumed unsustainable proportions of nature, we have also polluted the air, land and waters of the earth.
Schwågerl notes in The Anthropocene (Synergetic Press; 2014; p. 132):
      A large proportion of what we refer to as “environmental problems” these days—climate change, electronic scrap, plastic pollution—derives from the fact that the technosphere is terrible at preventing waste and recycling its components in the way that leaves do when they fall from trees…
Schwågerl continues (p. 140):
      Future technology has to consist of machines, materials and molecules that adapt to the biologic cycles of earth instead of perturbing them, and they have to enrich earth with life-enhancing stimuli instead of discharging poisons.

Do the existing CBD regulations for living organisms address risks yet unrecognized?  Do these regulations address the potential indirect effects of synthetic biology?  The answer is No to both questions.

Further, in regard to synthetic biology, Schwågerl notes (p. 164-5)
     Without consensus on the aims and limits of cultivating synthetic life, this field will soon simply reflect the ambitions of individual scientists or the profit-hunting instinct of large companies…
  ...The danger that artificial life could escape from laboratories in the process of synthetic biology is just one aspect of the problem.  The greater danger is that scientists change fundamental attitudes to life for the worse:  an industrial biology that produces animals as if they were flat-screen TVs…and treats living creatures as mere “technology platforms,”…
  ...[Synthetic biology]…represents one of the most sensitive research projects of all time, and the entry into a new dimension of life and human power…
  ...An even harder question in this respect and one that affects people directly is:  who is in control?  How should a society that uses nature as mere biomass and raw material deal responsibly with the knowledge of how to synthesize life?...
  …The eugenic crimes of the twentieth century are a strong warning of just how wrong developments can go.

Our species has conducted what amounts to a long, protracted war on nature.  The situation is so dire that it has called forth an encyclical from Pope Francis, who says:
  ...This sister (“Mother Earth”) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.   (2nd section)
  …The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.  (21st section)
  …It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.  (139th section)
  …Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor. (190th section)
  …The Earth Charter asked us to leave behind a period of self-destruction and make a new start, but we have not as yet developed a universal awareness needed to achieve this. Here, I would echo that courageous challenge: “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life”. (207th section)

The words above, taken from Pope Francis’s Encyclical, reflect to me, a Quaker of Jewish background, the social, ethical and moral perspective that should be reflected in the Convention on Biodiversity’s instruments to regulate synthetic biology.  We need such regulations to fulfill the Convention’s primary objective—the conservation of biological diversity.
(edited on 2015-07-02 20:02 UTC by Dr Frederic Bass)
posted on 2015-07-02 19:47 UTC by Dr Frederic Bass, self-employed