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About synthetic biology:

In the past decade, the topic of new genetic engineering techniques (‘synthetic biology’) has risen up the agenda of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). New technological approaches such as genome editing and rapid DNA synthesis are being commercially applied with significant economic disruption expected, especially on the economies, livelihoods and biodiversity of countries in the Global South. Biosynthesis of natural product replacements (e.g. artificially synthesizing compounds usually sourced from tropical agricultural commodities such as sweeteners, oils, flavours and fragrances) may upturn bio-trade, biodiversity-based livelihoods and threaten the resilience of small-scale farmers and gatherers and the biodiversity they support. The ability to digitize genetic sequences and remake them through DNA synthesis and editing, without physically accessing genetic resources, potentially evades existing access and benefit sharing arrangements and may undermine equitable sharing of benefits. Meanwhile, the invention of new technologies such as gene drives that aggressively spread an engineered trait in the wild will change and challenge conservation strategies.

As the parties and observers to the Convention on Biological Diversity work through the questions and issues raised by rapid developments in Synthetic Biology, following the path of tasks laid down by successive COP decisions, it is important that policymakers are informed of the latest information on these new and emerging areas of biotechnology that have significant implications for biodiversity.

About the BICSBAG Project:

The Building International Capacity on Synthetic Biology Assessment and Governance (BICSBAG) Project is a capacity-building initiative on synthetic biology and digital genetic sequence topics in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other related fora. It is coordinated by the African Center for Biodiversity, ETC Group, and the Third World Network. The BICSBAG partners gratefully acknowledge the financial support from SwedBio at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Frontier Co-op Foundation and CS Fund in the production of these materials.