Category Archives: Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology products found in “green” laundry detergent

Note: You can check out this letter from our friends with ETC Group asking Ecover to reconsider their use of synbio and genetic engineering in their “green” products.

-The GJEP Team

By Stephanie Strom, May 30, 2014. Source: NY Times

Photo: Jim Wilson/New York Times

Photo: Jim Wilson/New York Times

Consumer products containing ingredients made using an advanced form of engineering known as synthetic biology are beginning to show up more often on grocery and department store shelves.

A liquid laundry detergent made by Ecover, a Belgian company that makes “green” household products including the Method line, contains an oil produced by algae whose genetic code was altered using synthetic biology. The algae’s DNA sequence was changed in a lab, according to Tom Domen, the company’s manager for long-term innovation.

Ecover calls the algae-produced oil a “natural” replacement for palm kernel oil, which is in such high demand that environmentalists are concerned that tropical rain forests are being felled to grow palm trees, disturbing ecosystems and threatening endangered animals.

“Finding a sustainable source of palm oil is, of course, difficult,” Mr. Domen said. “This new oil is a more sustainable alternative from a new technology.”

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering, Synthetic Biology

Scientists create bionic particles ‘inspired by Terminator’

Note: As if biofuels from genetically engineered trees and other crops weren’t bad enough…

-The GJEP Team

May 23, 2014. Source: The Guardian

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – a vision surely now only decades away. Photo: Observer

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – a vision surely now only decades away. Photo: Observer

In what might come to be seen as a moment of apocalyptic hubris, scientists at universities in Michigan and Pittsburgh in the US have pioneered bionic particles – a blend of organic matter with semiconductors – that they describe as being “inspired by fictional cyborgs like Terminator”.

The particles, currently microscopic but perhaps with the potential to scale up to nightmarish Austrian-accented machines, are a blend of cadmium telluride, which is used in solar panels to absorb sunlight, and cytochrome C, a plant protein that helps transports electrons during photosynthesis. Blended together, the new particles “recreate the heart of the process that allows plants to turn sunlight into fuel”.

The hope is that the particles will aid a more efficient conversion of sunlight into biofuels, rather than setting off a chain of events that leads to Skynet being switched on. “We merged biological and inorganic in a way that leverages the attributes of both to get something better than either alone,” said Sharon Glotzer, who headed up the research, alluding to the lethal blend of malleability and strength inherent to the T-1000 model of Terminator.

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Genetic Engineering, Synthetic Biology

Brazil warned world’s first commercial release of GM mosquitoes requires full public consultation

April 10, 2014. Source: GeneWatch UK

mosquito6a

Environmental and civil society groups today warned the Brazilian regulator of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), CTNBio, not to approve commercial releases of GM mosquitoes in Brazil without full public consultation, access to conclusive field trials data and a post release monitoring plan. The groups cautioned that the consequences for human health and the environment are poorly understood and need to be further studied.

The GM Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are produced by UK company Oxitec and the decision follows extensive lobbying by the UK Government to try to create an export market for its products (1). The company, which has close links to the multinational agribusiness Syngenta, also has GM agricultural pests, such as GM fruit flies, at an experimental stage and approval for field trials are pending in Brazil.

“There are no data showing that this GM mosquito actually reduces dengue incidence. In the case it is approved for commercial use, the decision will have been based much more on propaganda than on concrete data from field studies”, said Gabriel Fernandes, advisor with the Brazilian organization AS-PTA.

“Oxitec’s ineffective and risky GM insects are a poor showcase for British exports to Brazil. A desperate desire to prop up British biotech and reward venture capital investors should not blind the UK and Brazilian governments to the risks of this technology”, said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK.
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Filed under Biodiversity, Genetic Engineering, Latin America-Caribbean, Synthetic Biology

That was the year – Unlucky 13

January 7, 2014. Source: ETC Group

etc_groupUnlucky 13: Our 2012 year-end review, “193 Shades of Gray,” stumbled into the surreal, post-Rio+20 “Hunger Games” as FAO admitted that it has been underestimating the number of hungry people and overestimating future food requirements and, in a cowardly act of conspicuous consumption, the UN Committee on World Food Security failed to condemn biofuels; Warsaw withered the way of every climate conference since Kyoto; the USA, UK, China and Russia significantly underestimated GHG emissions while the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Australia concluded that they just don’t give a damn. UNEP first endorsed – and then disclaimed – methyl hydrates as a green, clean energy source. Haiyan/Yolanda, the most powerful typhoon ever recorded, struck the Philippines leaving four million people homeless, and a million Syrians bore the hurricane of refugee flight amidst the tsunami of winter snows.

Lucky 13: In October, a pro-Terminator bill came up for vote in Brazil’s Judicial Commission but was withdrawn; came back again at the end of December and was withdrawn again; massive GM maize plantings in Mexico about-to-be approved most of 2013 were halted by national and international mobilizations leading to a lucky legal ploy in September; that was overturned in December, but restored the same week; lucky us, Edward Snowden courageously told us more than we feared to suspect; Benedict XVI quit; replaced by the happy surprise of the year, Pope Francis. We had Nelson Mandela for 95 years.

2013’s Over-the-Top Understatements: Two demonic pearls from prominent Canadians: Toronto’s hallucinogenic Mayor, Rob Ford, admitted to the Today show, “I’m not perfect,” and Harvard’s hubristic professor, David Keith, confessed to news satirist Stephen Colbert that spraying sulfuric acid in the stratosphere (geoengineering) was a “totally imperfect technological fix.”

2013’s Idiotic Idioms:

·      “Unconventional energy,” or “unconventionals,” for short – including fracking, methane hydrate extraction;

·      “Oilsands” (a.k.a. “tar”) – the capitalist’s alternative to “alternative energy;”

·      “Distorporation” – The Economist magazine’s description of MLPs (Master Limited Partnerships) for the massive secrecy move by extractivist investors;
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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Food Sovereignty, Genetic Engineering, Humor, Land Grabs, Rio+20, Synthetic Biology, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests, Warsaw/COP-19, World Bank

Genetically engineered trees and glowing synthetic plants? No thanks

Note: It’s only the second day of the conference, and the GE tree industry has already been met by two demonstrators, who were arrested yesterday after disrupting a talk on GE trees and biofuels.  A major march is planned for today.  For more on this, go to treebiotech2013.org.  And stay tuned to Climate Connections for updates throughout the week.

Many thanks to Dr. Rachel Smolker, co-director of BiofuelWatch and longtime friend and colleague of Global Justice Ecology Project.

-The GJEP Team

By Dr. Rachel Smolker, May 24, 2013. Source: Huffington Post

Demonstrators hold banners in Asheville, NC to welcome attendees of the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference

Demonstrators hold banners in Asheville, NC to welcome attendees of the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference. Photo: REAL Cooperative

This week in Asheville, N.C., the IUFRO “Tree Biotechnology” conference will meet. And the attendees will be met: by protests. Public opinion is unequivocally opposed to genetically engineered trees. When the South Carolina-based tree engineering company, ArborGen recently applied for deregulation of their freeze tolerant eucalyptus, APHIS responded by filing a “notice of intent” to conduct an environmental impact statement, and opened up for public comments on ArborGen’s petition. The comments the received were overwhelmingly negative by a vast majority.

Similarly, when ArborGen filed for permission to field test their frankeneucalyptus back in 2010, more than 17,500 comments opposing the tests were submitted, while only 39 were favorable. In spite of the abysmal approval ratings, USDA granted permission to field test the trees and then again granted permission to allow some plots to go to flower. A lawsuit was filed against USDA by a coalition of groups (Global Justice Ecology Project, Dogwood Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity). In an article published in Biomass Magazine, spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization credited the suit as “… a hindrance to biomass development, as they discourage investment… It is creating a huge barrier.”

The International “Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees”, which has called for an international ban on commercial release of GE trees cheered their effectiveness as a “barrier.”
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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Synthetic Biology

A dream of trees aglow at night

Note: If successful, this would be the world’s first environmental release of a Synthetic Biology (also known as “extreme Genetic Engineering”) organism, setting a disastrous precedent for industry without any regulatory oversight whatsoever.

ETC Group and others have launched a “Kickstopper” project to put the brakes on this dangerous development.  Relatedly, later this month, Global Justice Ecology Project, Earth First!, and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees will be coordinating a major week of protest at the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference in Asheville, NC — click here to join us!

-The GJEP Team

By Andrew Pollack, May 7 2013. Source: The New York Times

Antony Evans, left, and Kyle Taylor show E. coli with jellyfish genes.  Photo: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Antony Evans, left, and Kyle Taylor show E. coli with jellyfish genes. Photo: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

Hoping to give new meaning to the term “natural light,” a small group of biotechnology hobbyists and entrepreneurs has started a project to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric streetlamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by.

The project, which will use a sophisticated form of genetic engineering called synthetic biology, is attracting attention not only for its audacious goal, but for how it is being carried out.

Rather than being the work of a corporation or an academic laboratory, it will be done by a small group of hobbyist scientists in one of the growing number of communal laboratories springing up around the nation as biotechnology becomes cheap enough to give rise to a do-it-yourself movement.

The project is also being financed in a D.I.Y. sort of way: It has attracted more than $250,000 in pledges from about 4,500 donors in about two weeks on the Web site Kickstarter. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Commodification of Life, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Synthetic Biology

Making living matter programmable

Note: To learn about the economic, social and environmental dangers of synthetic biology, check out Synbiowatch

-The GJEP Team

By Robert Sanders, March 26 2013. Source: UC Berkeley News Center

Jay Keasling (left), director of SynBERC, and moderator Corey Powell of Discover listen as Monsanto scientist Virginia Ursin explains the company’s interest in synthetic biology.  Photo: Christine Fu

Jay Keasling (left), director of SynBERC, and moderator Corey Powell of Discover listen as Monsanto scientist Virginia Ursin explains the company’s interest in synthetic biology. Photo: Christine Fu

BERKELEY —Thirty years ago, the future lay in programming computers. Today, it’s programming cells.

That was the message of panelists at an afternoon session yesterday (March 25) in Stanley Hall auditorium titled “Programming Life: the revolutionary potential of synthetic biology.” Co-presented by UC Berkeley’s Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) and Discover magazine, the panels brought together a dozen of synthetic biology’s pioneers from academia and industry, in addition to ethicists focused on the societal impact of the technology.

Keynote speaker Juan Enriquez, a self-described “curiosity expert” and co-founder of the company Synthetic Genomics, compared the digital revolution spawned by thinking of information as a string of ones and zeros to the coming synthetic biology revolution, premised on thinking about life as a mix of interchangeable parts – genes and gene networks – that can be learned and manipulated like any language.

At the moment, this genetic manipulation, a natural outgrowth of genetic engineering, focuses on altering bacteria and yeast to produce products they wouldn’t normally make, such as fuels or drugs. “To do with biology what you would do if you were designing a piece of software,” according to moderator Corey Powell, editor at large of Discover, which plans to publish a story about the conference and post the video online. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Genetic Engineering, Synthetic Biology

University of California joins Monsanto in fight against farmer

Note: The precedent set by this case could have profound implications for GE trees, should they escape onto private lands or public parks.

-The GJEP Team

By Jeff Conant, February 28, 2013.  Source: Synbiowatch

Last week, the Supreme Court heard testimonies in the Bowman vs. Monsanto case, wherein the agribusiness giant is fighting an appeal by farmer Vernon Bowman, who the company claims infringed its patent rights by replanting seeds he purchased beyond the bounds of the company’s licensing agreement. The farmer’s claim is that seeds are seeds, designed by nature to reproduce, and that therefore farmers have the right to plant them as they always have; the company’s claim is that its patent on a particular technology embedded in the seed extends to future generations of that seed’s stock.

As the NY Times reports, “The question in the case, Bowman v. Monsanto Company, No. 11-796, was whether patent rights to seeds and other things that can replicate themselves extend beyond the first generation. The justices appeared alert to the consequences of their eventual ruling not only for Monsanto’s very lucrative soybean patents but also for modern agriculture generally and for areas as varied as vaccines, cell lines and software.”

Back in 2007, a federal judge in Indiana ordered Mr. Bowman to pay Monsanto more than $84,000. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which specializes in patent cases, upheld that decision, saying that by planting the seeds Mr. Bowman had infringed Monsanto’s patents.

The rationale for infinite generational patent protection was given by Chief Justice Roberts in his opening question to Bowman’s lawyer: ”Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”
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Filed under Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, Food Sovereignty, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Industrial agriculture, Synthetic Biology