TransDisciplinary University Brings Together the Best Minds to Deliberate over the Promise and Problems of Synthetic Biology
Bengaluru, July 21: Scientists across the globe are discovering novel ways to alter DNA so as to genetically engineer new forms of life.The Craig Venter Institute based in USA developed the first fully-synthetic life form in May 2010 (called 'Synthia') where the parents are a computer, literally!!
Synthetic Biology is bringing together disparate disciplines like engineering, computer science, biotechnology and molecular biology to revolutionise the way we live. But how can India be a part of this revolution?
The TransDisciplinary University (TDU), in collaboration with the United Nations Environment and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has kick-started a series of science-policy-practice dialogues at its campus in Bengaluru, bringing together national and international experts. The outcomes of this series will directly feed into India's national priority setting in Synthetic Biology and related policies as well as inform global negotiations under the CBD.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Balakrishna Pisupati, Vice-chancellor, TDU, said, "In less than a decade, Synthetic Biology has managed to garner the attention of top technologists, researchers and policy makers worldwide. Countries like Australia and regional groups such as the European Union have developed policy details and foresight analysis of this technology, but India is yet to come to terms with this new reality. The delayed start may cost us dearly if negotiations under the United Nations turn Synthetic Biology into a rigid policy space. Our aim is to make India a part of the global decision-making process, where TDU will play an active role through its Law and Policy Programme."
The first session on 'Synthetic Biology: Policy and Implementation Issues' held today witnessed eminent speakers, such as Dr. Ileana Lopez, United Nations Environment, Nairobi, Dr. Manoela Miranda, Secretariat to Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Montreal, Dr. Sangita Kasture, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, New Delhi, Dr. Ramaswamy S, Instem, Bengaluru, and Dr. Ezhil Subbaian, String Bio Private Limited, Bengaluru.
Addressing the inaugural session, Dr. Ileana Lopez, United Nations Environment, Nairobi, hailed the prospects of engineered organisms that are designed and built in labs to produce drugs, fuels and food. "The need of the hour is to make multilateral decisions on how to deal with synthetic biology and the organisms developed through the technology. Nations need to come together and discuss its scope, and relevance as well as implications for the environment and ethical issues. This initiative by TDU is a significant step in making India a part of the global picture," she said.
Elaborating on CBD's role, Dr. Manoela Miranda, further added, "As an international environmental agreement, the CBD's main objectives include conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biodiversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources of biodiversity. Discussions under the CBD need to ensure that decisions related to synthetic biology are in line with the mandate of the Convention and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety."
Dr. Sangita Kasture, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, New Delhi, emphasized the need for a diverse ecosystem that provides fertile ground for innovation. "It is time for policy makers, the biotechnology industry and scientists in India to be a part of this international revolution. The outcomes of this series of seminars will help assist in framing the national policy on Synthetic Biology," she maintained.
The Government of Karnataka is developing a Vision document on BioEconomy that includes focus on Synthetic Biology. However, there are still questions on the social and economic implications as well as the role of liability and safety that need to be addressed. Unlike the debate on genetically modified (GM) crops, Synthetic Biology is still in its nascent stage, calling for further exchange of ideas and deliberation to better understand its ramifications.
TDU's next seminar on 'Synthetic biology organisms are living modified organisms - Are there any exceptions?' is scheduled for 4th August 2017, followed by a session on 'Dealing with synthetic biology organisms - Tools for assessment and risk management' on 18th August 2017, and the final seminar on 'Making recommendations for CBD Scientific Body on synthetic biology and conservation, sustainable management of environment' on 8th September 2017.