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New GE Technologies

New genetic engineering techniques are emerging from the laboratory, generally categorized as so-called « New Breeding Techniques » or Synthetic Biology. There is a global debate raging over the regulation of these new techniques.

Resources

Briefing: Genetic Engineering in Plants and the “New Breeding Techniques (NBTs)”: Inherent risks and the need to regulate, EcoNexus, December 2015.

Article: What’s a GMO? Janet Cotter, 2016

Website: SynBioWatch

Consumer Guide: Are GMOs 2.0 in your food and cosmetics? SynBioWatch September 2016. Or contact us to order copies.

Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is a form of extreme genetic engineering. It is an emerging technology that is developing quickly yet remains largely unregulated. With synthetic biology, instead of swapping existing genes from one species to another (as is done through rDNA technology/genetic engineering), scientists can write entirely new genetic codes on a computer, “print” them out and insert them into living organisms. Scientists are even trying to create life from scratch.

Artificial DNA is engineered into living things to fundamentally change their character. Nobody knows how to asses synthetic organisms for safety and, until now, governments and companies have refrained from releasing these organisms into the environment because they may threaten the natural world.

Companies have commercialized several products already, including a vanilla substitute grown by synthetically modified yeast, a coconut oil replacement produced by engineered algae, and engineered versions of patchouli and vetiver fragrances.

Click here for more information on synthetic biology.

Gene Drives

Gene drives are an experimental genetic engineering technology intended to aggressively spread a specific bioengineered trait among a species or population in nature. Normally, a genetically modified organism that is released into the wild would pass on its bioengineered traits (e.g. herbicide tolerance) to only about half of its offspring. Gene drives are designed so that the bioengineered traits will be passed on to all or most offspring (even though they are unlikely to be one hundred percent effective). If a gene drive were to be successful, the chosen genetically engineered traits would spread and become dominant in wild populations over a few generations of the species. A successful gene drive could intentionally or accidentally alter a species or crash it to extinction. So far, these artificial gene drives are developed using the new ‘gene- editing’ system known as CRISPR-Cas9. Gene drives may be deliberately introduced into invasive species to eradicate them from the wild for conservation purposes, or into weed species to remove them from farmers’ fields. They could be used to exterminate crop and livestock pests and destroy herbicide resistance in superweeds. Several groups have recently made news for proposing gene drive mosquitos to suppress or make extinct the species that transmit malaria. Gene drives might also be pressed into use for military purposes as bioweapons, or to suppress food harvests. Click here for more information. December 5, 2016: Call for a Global Moratorium on Gene Drives: 163 groups including CBAN called upon governments at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in accordance with the precautionary principle, to put in place a moratorium on 1) any further technical development and experimental application of gene drives, and 2) environmental release of genetically-engineered gene drives.

The main distinction between gene driven organisms and most GMO crops is that gene drive organisms are explicitly designed to live and reproduce in the wild. Read Gene Drives: A Scientific Case for a Complete and Perpetual Ban

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter on the scale of the nanometer (one billionth of a meter). Nanoscale science operates in the realm of single atoms and molecules. Click here for information on nanotechnology.