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SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY Part I: Potential Impacts of Synthetic Biology on Biological Diversity Part II: Gaps and Overlaps with the Provisions of the Convention and Other Agreements

Author(s):  Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity

Publication: CBD Technical Series

Abstract:  One of the functions of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the Convention on Biological Diversity is to identify new and emerging issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. To streamline the work of the Subsidiary Body, the Conference of the Parties, in decision IX/29, provided guidance on the procedure for the identification of new and emerging issues and on the review of proposals.

The Conference of the Parties first turned its attention to synthetic biology at its tenth meeting in 2010, where Parties, other Governments and relevant organizations were, inter alia, invited to apply the precautionary approach to the field release of synthetic life, cell, or genome into the environment. Consideration of synthetic biology as a substantive issue was subsequently placed on the agenda of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice at its sixteenth meeting in 2012, and since then it has been debated intensively.

Synthetic biology is a loosely-defined term for a range of techniques stemming from the combination of different disciplines, which adds a challenge to the debate. Moreover, as this field develops quickly, there are many unknowns regarding what products and applications will be technically feasible, commercially viable, and safe both for human health and biodiversity. In addition, questions of the adequacy of existing regulations to deal with current and anticipated components, organisms and products of synthetic biology as well as the social and ethical implications of synthetic biology are being raised.