Feb 262019
synthetic biology update 2019

It’s happening right now. Many scientists, technology-enthusiasts, and corporations hope to create novel life forms. They seek to move from evolution through natural selection into a moment of ever more human-conceived and designed life. 

Combining life sciences, computer science, and engineering, an entire field sometimes called “synthetic biology” is developing. It uses a suite of powerful techniques with names like “CRISPR.” As with many new technologies, governments have failed to keep pace. The public doesn’t provide input into the far-reaching decisions companies make. There’s limited regulation.

Canadian Friends Service Committee is the peace and social justice agency of Quakers in Canada. Grounded in our values of peace, integrity, equality, simplicity, and respect for all creation, we are led to respond to synthetic biology. We are particularly interested in the social, ethical, and spiritual implications, which go well beyond the technology itself.

Once a year we round up and share stories making headlines in the weird world of synthetic biology. We’re pleased to launch the 2019 update. These updates are not technical and don’t demand any science background. We think it’s important that non-scientists be informed and engage in the discussions shaping the uses and regulation of synthetic biology.

In the 2019 update you’ll find:

  • Editing humans: He Jiankui’s edits of twin babies born last year, who else was involved, the health implications for the twins, what the responses have been to date, and what other human editing may lie on the horizon.
  • Gene drives: updates on attempts to crash populations of mosquitoes and mice in the wild, conversations about regulation of this type of research, and ensuring free, prior, and informed consent.
  • Bioweapons: from creating a potent virus with mail-order DNA and explaining how to do it, to US military research into editing bacteria to track enemy submarines.
  • Skin products: yeast-secreted synthetic biology sunscreen and skincare products.
  • Patents: a recent study highlighting the corporate control of genetic information.
  • Clothes: plans for clothes that sense and communicate, an artist’s project using leather from lab-made human skin.
  • Plants: reflecting on claims about the need to genetically
    edit crops and other plants, highlighting several current areas of research.

Download the 2019 synthetic biology update (PDF).

See an overview of our synthetic biology hopes and concerns.

Learn more about synthetic biology.