Team Freiburg meets “The Greens”

As the matter of synthetic biology opens up a wide spectrum of political issues, not at least in Germany, our team decided on meeting local key actors of recent year debates: The Green Party, correctly termed as “Alliance ’90/The Greens”.

Members of The Greens which, amongst others, originated in traditional ecological movements are known for their critical view of genetic engineering - often referring themselves and their arguments on capitalist and patentee misuses of global agrobusiness conglomerates [1] , [2] . Furthermore, according to an opinion of 78 % of all German citizens [3] , risk assessment of genetically modified organisms - especially plants - has already proven to be strongly incompatible with classical farming and breeding, nature conservation efforts and human health.

Ongoing discussions on GMOs in Germany have rarely been considering the most recent life science developments and their potential future implications. Instead, general claims and ethical aspects of genetic engineering were in the public's and political partys' center of interest – with a clear tendency and cross-party common sense to reduce GMO applications to a minimum.

However, common knowledge does not include latest synthetic biology concepts.

- The first artificial Mycoplasma genitalium genome synthesis of 2008 has rather stripped than aroused public interest.
- Despite their original discovery in Germany in 2010, TAL effectors pose internationally highly observed and utilized protein scaffolds for sophisticated multiplex organism engineering. However, subsequent discussion on this powerful tool has not reached the borders of non-scientific media and the German public.
- Due to rather decisive laws and biosecurity standards, bio-hacking is not permitted in Germany [4] . This is an unknown fact for many citizens, as a broader debate on reason and purposes of community-based synthetic biology enterprises - compared to US standards - has not taken place.

In an encounter with the Freiburgian party executive commitee of The Greens, we sought to inform about current tendencies of synthetic biology: the rapid technological advances, sinking costs of DNA synthesis and sequencing and also growing accessibility of genome engineering for „hobby“ molecular biologists. Furthermore, we described our project and its great potential and impact for future medical applications.

In contrast to our expectations, the reunion's climate was not at all ideologically driven or emotional - instead, differentiated and factual exchange took place. We faced a reasonable debate on risks of simultaneous access to broader differential gene expression in an organism.