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Health and
Food Safety
Synthetic biology
T h e   f i e l d   o f
Synthetic Biology
(SynBio) is full
o f   e x c i t i n g
p o s s i b i l i t i e s ,
from adapting
crops to thrive
in barren lands
to growing new
organs to save the
lives of transplant recipients.
And yet all unexplored scientific
territories may pose potential
risks, which is why the Scientific
Committees have scientific
Opinions on SynBio from definition
to potential risks to public health
and to determining the type of risk-
related research that needs to be
done in this field.
 What is SynBio?
SynBio, as defined in Opinion I, is ‘the
application of science, technology and
engineering to facilitate and accelerate
the  design,  manufacture  and/or
modification of genetic materials in living
organisms.’ In other words, SynBio uses
faster and easier methods for producing
genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
by adding or removing genes from an
organism, or assembling modular genetic
elements and creating one from scratch.
The  principal  purpose  of  defining
SynBio is to assist the identification of
processes or products that might require
a substantial change from current risk
assessment and safety procedures.
 What are the applications of
SynBio?
SynBio aims to design biological systems
that do not exist in nature, or to re-design
existing principles to better understand
or improve life processes. There are
SynBio applications already in use, such
as yeasts that produce insulin or the
malaria drug, artemisinin.
SynBio is still a young field, having
emerged at the dawn of the 21st century,
and applications for the pharmaceutical,
chemical, agricultural, and energy sectors
are growing.
 Are the hazards and risks
related to SynBio activities well
evaluated?
The scope of the Opinions is for the
foreseeable future (10 years) and
currently, the existing methods of risk
assessment for GMOs and chemicals
are applicable; however, new SynBio
developments may require adapting
existing methods for risk and safety
assessment.
 Are there issues specific
to SynBio that could emerge?
Challenges in assessing SynBio
risks are foreseeable and include
the integration of modified cells
into/with living organisms; future
developments of autonomous
modified  cells;  use  of  non-
standard biochemical systems in
living cells; increased speed of
modifications by new technologies
and an evolving ‘Do-it-Yourself
Biology’ among the citizen science
community. However, these can
be managed by combinations of
strict safety approaches including
SynBio safety locks, like genetic
firewalls and genetic kill switches
to ensure biosafety risks.
These opinions are available at:
http://ec.europa.eu/health/
scientific_committees/emerging/
opinions/index_en.htm
This fact sheet is based on
the following opinions of the
independent Scientific Committee
on Emerging and Newly Identified
Health Risks (SCENIHR), on Health
and Environmental Risks (SCHER),
and on Consumer Safety (SCCS):
‘Opinion on Synthetic Biology
I - Definition” and “Opinion
on Synthetic Biology II - Risk
assessment methodologies and
safety aspects". June, 2015

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Synthetic biology

  • 1. Health and Food Safety Synthetic biology T h e   f i e l d   o f Synthetic Biology (SynBio) is full o f   e x c i t i n g p o s s i b i l i t i e s , from adapting crops to thrive in barren lands to growing new organs to save the lives of transplant recipients. And yet all unexplored scientific territories may pose potential risks, which is why the Scientific Committees have scientific Opinions on SynBio from definition to potential risks to public health and to determining the type of risk- related research that needs to be done in this field.  What is SynBio? SynBio, as defined in Opinion I, is ‘the application of science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the  design,  manufacture  and/or modification of genetic materials in living organisms.’ In other words, SynBio uses faster and easier methods for producing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by adding or removing genes from an organism, or assembling modular genetic elements and creating one from scratch. The  principal  purpose  of  defining SynBio is to assist the identification of processes or products that might require a substantial change from current risk assessment and safety procedures.  What are the applications of SynBio? SynBio aims to design biological systems that do not exist in nature, or to re-design existing principles to better understand or improve life processes. There are SynBio applications already in use, such as yeasts that produce insulin or the malaria drug, artemisinin. SynBio is still a young field, having emerged at the dawn of the 21st century, and applications for the pharmaceutical, chemical, agricultural, and energy sectors are growing.  Are the hazards and risks related to SynBio activities well evaluated? The scope of the Opinions is for the foreseeable future (10 years) and currently, the existing methods of risk assessment for GMOs and chemicals are applicable; however, new SynBio developments may require adapting existing methods for risk and safety assessment.  Are there issues specific to SynBio that could emerge? Challenges in assessing SynBio risks are foreseeable and include the integration of modified cells into/with living organisms; future developments of autonomous modified  cells;  use  of  non- standard biochemical systems in living cells; increased speed of modifications by new technologies and an evolving ‘Do-it-Yourself Biology’ among the citizen science community. However, these can be managed by combinations of strict safety approaches including SynBio safety locks, like genetic firewalls and genetic kill switches to ensure biosafety risks. These opinions are available at: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ scientific_committees/emerging/ opinions/index_en.htm This fact sheet is based on the following opinions of the independent Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER), and on Consumer Safety (SCCS): ‘Opinion on Synthetic Biology I - Definition” and “Opinion on Synthetic Biology II - Risk assessment methodologies and safety aspects". June, 2015