GenØk participation in the UN expert group meeting on synthetic biology



The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has held a meeting of their Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology 4-7 June in Montreal to discuss the latest technological developments in synthetic biology.

The Group reported on knowledge gaps related to synthetic biology applications to agriculture and to intended release in the environment that could pose adverse effects to the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Such new applications provide a shift in current genetically modified organisms and include, but are not limited to, applications to perform the genetic modification in the field, known as lab-in-the-field applications (e.g. double-stranded RNA sprays as pesticides), applications for intended use in wild populations (e.g. mosquito gene-drives) and non-canonical nucleic acid and amino acids.

Some synthetic biology application may pose extra challenges for their assessment since they may fall outside the definition of a “living modified organism” as per Cartagena Protocol, the international treaty on genetically modified organisms, GMOs. Therefore, it was urged that both mechanisms, the Convention and the Protocol, promote synergies and work jointly on the issue.

The lack of analytical tools to detect and identify synthetic biology organisms and to monitor the potential adverse effects derived from them was also highlighted in the meeting. This is the case for gene-editing application with minimal DNA changes. Something also reflected by the annual plenary meeting of the European Network of GMO laboratories, the EU competent authority developing detection guidelines.

Such technological and knowledge gaps along with the speed of development and the shift in uses from agriculture to directly in the environment may affect the geographic coverage and potential spread of synthetic biology organisms as well as the ways to mitigate their impact.

Finally, the group urged for capacity-building and training activities under the Convention to enable the effective participation of developing countries and indigenous peoples and local communities to assess the impact of synthetic biology applications in their own countries and territories.