CBD AHTEG Report Proposes Operational Definition of Synthetic Biology
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The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has released the report of the Ad hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Synthetic Biology which considered, among other issues, potential benefits and adverse impacts of organisms that are products of synthetic biology for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.

The report contains a proposed operational definition of synthetic biology, an illustrative list of potential benefits and adverse impacts, and other AHTEG recommendations to the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP).

CBD10 November 2015: The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has released the report of the Ad hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Synthetic Biology. The report considers, among other issues, potential benefits and adverse impacts of organisms that are products of synthetic biology for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. The report contains a proposed operational definition of synthetic biology, an illustrative list of potential benefits and adverse impacts, and other AHTEG recommendations to the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP).

The AHTEG considered the following issues: an operational definition on synthetic biology; the relationship between synthetic biology and biological diversity; similarities and differences between living modified organisms (LMOs) as defined by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and organisms that are products of synthetic biology techniques; adequacy of existing national, regional and international instruments; and potential benefits and risks arising for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The workshop proposed defining synthetic biology as “a further development and new dimension of modern biotechnology that combines science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the understanding, design, redesign, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials, living organisms and biological systems.”

Participants also developed an illustrative list of potential benefits and adverse effects of synthetic biology. Benefits include for example, medical and nutritional applications, bioremediation, agricultural and bioenergy applications, and increased benefit-sharing through access to tools of synthetic biology. Potential adverse effects include, for example, invasive species due to engineered fitness, increased pathogenic potential, and reduced benefit-sharing through a shift in the understanding of what constitutes a genetic resource.

The AHTEG further recommended that the CBD COP, inter alia: note that living organisms developed through synthetic biology are similar to LMOs; regularly assess the state of knowledge on synthetic biology; and invite the COP serving as Meeting of the Parties (COP-MOP) to the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing (ABS) to set up a mechanism clarifying the issue of digital genetic resource information as it relates to ABS. [Report of the ADHEC on Synthetic Biology]

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