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

From 2011.igem.org

Team: British Columbia - 2011.igem.org

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

iGEM teams create computational models to simulate the function of their synthetic organism. The British Columbia iGEM 2011 team modelled the pine beetle epidemic in North America to predict and optimize the effect of a synthetic biology intervention on the epidemic.

What comes after in silico trials?

Is it possible to perform a real‐life study? Find or create an isolated system and test out our product there first?

While this may be possible in some cases such as clinically testing if a particular synthetic pro‐biotic bacteria is detrimental to health, it becomes difficult when the goal is to release organisms into the larger environment such as the ocean or the forest. How do you stop your organism from leaking into other open spaces? If you cannot stop it, does it mean you should never release it?

A presentation judging panel once asked us “Is your yeast going to be competitive with yeast in the wild? Otherwise, how will it achieve your goal of subduing the epidemic?”

The answer is “Currently, no.”

But do we really want our organisms to be competitive with organisms in the wild? Is it not safer to continually input an extinguishable product into the open, rather than have to implement downstream strategies to eradicate the environment of our organisms after the problem is solved? Does efficiency come in front of safety? We already have many problems today dealing with invasive species. We do not need synthetic invasive species.

Perhaps engineering wimpy synthetic organisms is our best pre‐emptive safety bet… compared to unleashing a beast with a built‐in suicide system, which will likely be lost in time due to natural selection.

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

(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.