Seventeen leading scientists from different disciplines ranging from materials engineering to molecular biophysics issued a statement urging a broad global research effort into synthetic biology—the construction or redesign of biological systems components that do not naturally exist, by combining the engineering applications and practices of nanoscience with molecular biology.
The “Ilulissat Statement”, issued at the inaugural meeting of the Kavli Futures Symposium in Ilulissat, Greenland, calls for an international effort to advance synthetic biology that would not only propel research, but do so while developing protective measures against accidents and abuses of synthetic biology.
The early twenty-first century is a time of tremendous promise and tremendous peril. We face daunting problems of climate change, energy, health, and water resources. Synthetic biology offers solutions to these issues: microorganisms that convert plant matter to fuels or that synthesize new drugs or target and destroy rogue cells in the body.
As with any powerful technology, the promise comes with risk. We need to develop protective measures against accidents and abuses of synthetic biology. A system of best practices must be established to foster positive uses of the technology and suppress negative ones. The risks are real, but the potential benefits are truly extraordinary.
The statement calls for a six-point program on two fronts:
Support the development of hardware platforms for synthetic biology.
Support fundamental research exploring the software of life, including its interaction with the environment.
Support nanotechnology research to assist in the manufacture of synthetic life and its interfacing with the external world.
Societal Impacts and Applications
Support programs directed to address the most pressing applications, including energy and health care.
Support the establishment of a professional organization that will engage with the broader society to maximize the benefits, minimize the risks, and oversee the ethics of synthetic life.
Develop a flexible and sensible approach to ownership, sharing of knowledge, and regulation, that takes into account the needs of all stakeholders.
The statement’s recommendations include creation of a professional organization that will engage with the broader society to maximize the benefits, minimize the risks, and oversee the ethics of synthetic life.
A few recent developments by synthetic biology companies focused on fuels include:
Synthetic Genomics entered a long-term research and development partnership with BP, initially focused on enhancing or increasing production of subsurface hydrocarbons. (Earlier post.)
LS9 Inc., a startup founded in 2005 to apply synthetic biology technology to production of proprietary biofuels, launched in 2007. LS9 is developing “Renewable Petroleum” biofuels. (Earlier post.)
Amyris Biotechnologies, Inc., a privately-held company applying advances in synthetic biology to produce high-value pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals and biofuels, raised $20 million in a first round of venture funding. (Earlier post.)
|Signatories of the Ilulissat Statement|
|Robert Austin||Princeton University|
London, United Kingdom
|Angela Belcher||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|David Bensimon||Ecole Normale Superieure|
|Steven Chu||Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory|
|Cees Dekker||Delft University of Technology|
Delft, The Netherlands
|Freeman Dyson||Institute for Advanced Study|
|Drew Endy||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|Scott Fraser||California Institute of Technology|
|John Glass||J. Craig Venter Institute|
|Robert Hazen||Carnegie Institution of Washington|
|Joe Howard||Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics|
University of California at Berkeley|
|Hiroaki Kitano||The Systems Biology Institute, and Sony Computer Science Laboratories|
|Paul McEuen||Cornell University|
|Petra Schwille||TU Dresden|
|Ehud Shapiro||Weizman Institute of Science|
|Julie Theriot||Stanford University|