Dr. Andrew Riseman

From 2011.igem.org

Team: British Columbia - 2011.igem.org

Interview with Dr. Andrew Riseman

Associate Professor, Applied Biology and Plant Breeding (Dr. Riseman's Bio)

(About synthetic biology) It's cool. Designed organisms should do things that natural organisms cannot do.

Dr. Riseman is an expert in the role of plant genetics in the design of sustainable production systems, identifying relevant traits useful in these systems, combining them within superior germplasm, and integrating this germplasm into an optimized system.

1. Do you think synthetic organisms should be released into the wild?

It needs to be on a case-by-case basis. The first line of critique is whether there are novel traits or a novel combination of traits introduced. If there is no novelty introduced, then the question is about the reproduction of the synthetic organism e.g. if there are built-in self-replicative barriers. Another question is the modes of DNA transfer. In any case, it is important to look at the potential gains versus risks. Speaking about the release of GMO plants in particular, I think that extrapolating from one case to evaluate the risks of new cases is not secure. I appreciate the Canadian government's approach of evaluating cases based on novel traits introduced rather than the technology used to create synthetic organisms.

2. What standards would you recommend for their release?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency PNT office has a good monitoring and screening procedure. It is important that the government takes responsibility or contracts a third party to screen the release of synthetic organisms rather than leaving it to companies to self-regulate. I agree that precautionary measures are a good practice.

3. What challenges are there in terms of attaining public acceptance?

There must be clear unequivocal benefits to the public with no other alternative solutions. There cannot only be corporate benefits. For instance, in the case of the Gulf oil spill, if there were bacteria that could consume the oil, that would be good. It depends on the acuteness of the problem. There are also public relations and educational aspects.

4. What future directions do you see for synthetic biology?

It is viable in closed systems so that there is no exposure to the environment. Again, there should be clear benefits that justify the need for synthetic biology.

5. Do you think we should be rewriting the code of life?

Yes, but not necessarily to make synthetic organisms for release into the environment. It is a good tool to understand natural organisms and life.