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Public Health (15-07-2015)

Preliminary Opinion on Synthetic Biology III: Research priorities

Today, the European Commission and its non-food Scientific Committees1 publish their preliminary Opinion on Synthetic Biology III: Research priorities. This is the last in a set of three scientific Opinions2 on Synthetic Biology (SynBio). It addresses specific risks to the environment from SynBio organisms, processes and products, and identifies major research gaps for assessing Synbio’s possible risks to public health. Interested parties are invited to submit comments on the scientific evidence online before 16 September 2015.

Examples of gaps in methodologies and research identified in the preliminary opinion include:

  • Standardised techniques to monitor biocontainment and survival in environments outside the bioreactor and to generate comparative data for use in quantitative biocontainment assessment.
  • Information to assess the implications, as well as the environmental and evolutionary consequences of a collaborative interaction between non-living proto cells and living organisms.
  • A framework to quantitatively and qualitatively characterise xenobiologic organisms with respect to evolutionary fitness, ecological competitiveness, degree of horizontal gene flow, susceptibility to viruses, diseases or predation.
  • Impacts from accidental or intentional introduction of SynBio organisms into the environment.

What is Synbio?

SynBio aims to design new biological systems that do not yet exist in nature by developing the components of novel applications and processes such as synthetic life, cells or genomes. SynBio offers exciting new possibilities for creating new industries which could result in economic gain for the EU and other major economies. Its potential benefits could extend to health, the environment, resource management and the economy. However, despite the benefits of SynBio, there are scientific uncertainties associated with the development of synthetic life, cells or genomes and their potential impact on the environment, the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and human health. The EU is taking a precautionary approach to prevent any loss in biodiversity and a result of SynBio processes, hence the mandate for the Scientific Opinions.

More information:

1 Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER), Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR)

2 Synthetic Biology: