A new position paper on synthetic biology has been published by the DFG, the German Research Foundation, to acknowledge the latest advancements in the field within the current discourse.
The Permanent Senate Commission on Genetic Research of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has published the paper to outline the most recent synthetic biology developments and assess these within the context of the field. The DFG’s paper aims to contribute to the discussion of the opportunities and risks of the field.
What is synthetic biology?
The DFG has noted that the distinction between synthetic biology as a concept, and its underlying techniques, should be made clear. They have explained that the potential for innovation should be carefully balanced with the biosafety and potential misuse risks, and must also be given ethical consideration. The term covers many different types of research, so the DFG has advocated considered each case individually rather than drawing generalised conclusions across the whole field.
Prof. Dr. Katja Becker, who is the chair of the Senate Commission and vice president of the DFG, said: “We have noted with concern how terminology is often confused both in public and political debates – for example, in connection with the current negotiations on the Convention on Biological Diversity – resulting in calls to regulate synthetic biology…From a scientific standpoint, the sole employment of methodological approaches cannot be equated with the field of synthetic biology. Discussions on the assessment and potential regulation of organisms produced through synthetic biology should therefore focus on the possible new properties of an organism.”
What conclusions does the DFG draw?
The DFG’s analysis of the recent scientific advances shows that there are no new potential risk, and the current research is covered by existing legislation, specifically Germany’s Genetic Engineering Act.
In terms of ethical issues, the latest developments have not posed any new ethical questions. The relevant ethical issues relating to genetic engineering and stem cell research are already being taken into account.