Venter's "living" organism: regulate synthetic biology

Venter’s “living” organism a wake-up call to regulate synthetic biology

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On May 20, 2010, the J. Craig Venter Institute announced the creation of the first living organism with an entirely synthetic genome. Venter’s lab inserted computer-created synthetic DNA based on the organism’s natural DNA into the organism. This organism is now able to self-replicate. Much of the hype around this announcement proclaims that life has been made from scratch, but Venter only created a copy of what nature has created over billions of years.

While this is a technical feat, it is far from creating life from scratch. If anything, it highlights the difference between our advanced ability to create synthetic life and our only basic understanding of the complexities of genetics and the role DNA plays in creating life.

Venter’s experiment is a wake-up call to governments around the world that synthetic biology must be regulated to protect the environment and human health. Without proper safeguards in place, we risk introducing novel living organisms into the environment that have the potential to destroy ecosystems and threaten human health.

Friends of the Earth calls on the U.S. government to implement a moratorium on the release of synthetic organisms into the environment until there is adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities. The government must take into consideration the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity, as well as the associated socio-economic implications. All synthetic biology research that is funded with federal money must complete a comprehensive environmental impact review and all projects should be reviewed by the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.

Learn more about the dangers of this technology at our synthetic biology page.

More Resources

  • Testimony from Friends of the Earth, ETC Group, and the International Center for Technology Assessment to the House Energy & Commerce Committee
  • Friends of the Earth emerging technologies campaigner Eric Hoffman on BBC Radio talking about Venter’s synthetic life
  • Friends of the Earth’s press release regarding Venter’s announcement
  • President Obama’s call to review synthetic biology for its potential risks and benefits
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