(1) Will synthetic organisms ever be released into the open?

From 2011.igem.org

Team: British Columbia - 2011.igem.org

Will synthetic organisms ever be released into the open?

The British Columbia iGEM 2011 team chose to create yeast that can produce monoterpenes that confer resistance to pine beetles and the bluestain fungus in order to alleviate the pine beetle epidemic in North American pine forests. However, realistically, our yeast will more likely be utilized in an industrial setting to produce monoterpenes for pharmaceuticals, flavours and fragrances, and biofuels. Our synthetic yeast has not been perfected yet, but there are many challenges, many questions and many years between where we are now and the time when we can introduce our organism to beetle‐infested regions.

So one question we ask is “Why invest billions of dollars and valuable human resources into synthetic biology aimed at solving real‐world problems when we cannot place these synthetic organisms at the heart of the problem?”

Logically speaking, since we cannot bring the oil spill to the bacteria, we must bring the bacteria to the oil spill. But maybe just as a last resort so we do not appear to be flagrantly dispersing synthetic organisms in the open.

Conversely, waiting for the absolute worst case scenario before trying a synthetic biology intervention for the first time seems risky. Perhaps it is better to start small; Test out less dangerous synthetic organisms on a smaller, more controllable scale. Make some mistakes, learn from them and come up with better strategies.

Furthermore, this is not considering the accidental or illegal release of synthetic organisms into the open. As synthetic biology research grows increasingly accessible, the amount of contact with the public grows exponentially. We may not already know it, but synthetic biology is out there.

(2) What extent of pre‐emptive measures is required before this can happen?

(3) Does everyone need to agree?

Our short discourse "Synthetic Biology in the Open: Pipe dream or the next giant leap for mankind?" can be downloaded or found on this CommunityBricks page.