Synthetic biology (the manufacture of completely synthetic organisms for specific functions) is one of the key components of transforming the cellulose locked in trees into liquid fuels. The other component is engineering the trees themselves to be more easily digested. There is even research going on to engineer trees with special enzymes in them that actually enable the tree to start to digest itself prior to harvest.
New report examines the dangers of synthetic biology in biofuels production
Washington, D.C.—The environmental watchdog group Friends of the Earth released a report today warning policymakers of the dangers of misguided attempts by the biotechnology industry to apply synthetic biology to the climate crisis, including the production of synthetic biofuels.
The report, titled “Synthetic Solutions to the Climate Crisis: The Dangers of Synthetic Biology for Biofuels Production,” concludes that synthetic biology projects including the creation of algae with synthetic DNA to produce fuels or synthetic yeast to break down biomass could have potentially devastating results if these organisms were released into the environment. For example, synthetic algae released into the ocean could grow rapidly, depleting oxygen levels, choking other life, and creating large dead zones.
Friends of the Earth Biotechnology Policy Campaigner Eric Hoffman had the following comment:
“This is uncharted territory, but we know that in the past, Monsanto and other corporations have promised that genetically modified crops would not spread and cross pollinate, and these claims proved false. We are now being asked to believe a similar promise, but the stakes are even higher. Synthetic microbes have no natural predators, and if they escape they may disrupt ecosystems and harm public health. Our report concludes thatthe federal government should put a complete moratorium on the release and commercial use of synthetic organisms. All possible implications of this synthetic biology research, including environmental, economic, social, and public health risks, must be reviewed by regulators.”
“In addition, we have found that despite the industry’s claims, synthetic biofuels will not be a solution to the climate crisis. Any efficiency gains in the production process are likely to be offset by the fact that synthetic biology would lead to more materials being turned into biofuels. This would increase the environmental damage—including deforestation and emissions of heat-trapping gases—and social ills caused by biofuel crop cultivation.”
The report can be viewed at http://www.foe.org/healthy-people/synthetic-biology.