Team:BGU Israel/SafetyTheProblem



The Environmental Problem
Sample articles on the web:

  • Monsanto GE seeds
  • By Greenpeace USA
Feature image
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  • 'Synthetic biology' holds promise, but doubts simmer
  • By USA Today
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  • Genetic Engeneering Could Be a Threat to Human and Environmental Health
  • By Greenpeace International
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  • Genetically Engineered Bacteria can Transfer DNA to Humans
  • By Farm Wars
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The Problem

The pace of modern technology is astounding: the dreams of yesterday have already become reality, and we are closer than ever to flying cars, human cloning, and settlement on the moon. But technology marches on at the expense of our planet. The past hundred years have marked the depletion of the ozone layer, rainforest destruction, extinction of different species of animals and plants, and the manufacturing of massive amounts of garbage.

Partial efforts to combat these unwanted effects are already in place, such as recycling, green architecture, and efforts against global warming. But these macro-level solutions are not enough, and do not solve all of the by-products of technological advances. Pesticides, for example, affect the base of the food chain and seep into the groundwater. For problems like these, a micro-solution is necessary: micro-organisms.

Why Micro-Organisms?

Micro-organisms service us in many aspects of everyday life. Yeast makes beer and bread, lactic bacteria makes cheese, algae and zooplankton help treat sewage.

What if microbes could be programmed to fulfill any needed function?

Synthetic biology is the engineering of biology: the systematic addition of functions to biological systems. Potentially, microbes could be modified to fulfill any needed purpose, from the microscopic to the large-scale, like genetically engineering bacteria to help fight climate change [1]. However, synthetic biology has yet to reach its maximum potential. In order to get to the source of what is holding it back, an initial dialogue with decision makers should be made. After a massive Outreach campaign, we concluded that two major concerns exist. Both result in tight regulation and difficult conditions which make the development of synthetic biology products nearly impossible. The concerns are the following:.

1. "Dual Use" Concern

Synthetic Biology offers unprecedented opportunities for conventional biotechnology however, such technology might directly be misapplied to pose significant threats with broad potential consequences to national security. Synthetic biology could offer sophisticated technologies for the deliberate production of organisms that will bear the ideal properties of bioweaponry. This raising the concern of "dual use", has made governments take measures to tighten the regulation on synthetic biology. [2]

2. Environmental Concern

Because of the complexity of biological and ecological systems, the environmental effects of releasing GMOs is difficult to predict. Once released, GMOs cannot be contained or controlled, making any damage potentially irreversible. Lastly, GMOs may pose risks that we do not know enough to imagine. Because of these groups like Greenpeace are vehemently opposed to the release of GMOs, and even among supporters of synthetic biology, there is concern about possible environmental risks.

We provide a solution which could significantly decrease the environmental concern.

Continue the journey: read about Consequence Analysis.


[2] B. Rager-Zisman, 2012, "Ethical and Regulatory Challenges Posed by Synthetic Biology", vol. 55,num. 4, Autumn.