Time to settle the synthetic controversy

Volker ter Meulen in Nature:

Syn_bio_logoThe creation of an artificial yeast chromosome shows that synthetic biology is getting closer to what most scientists want: to be able to deliver benefits to society. The field has already found cheaper ways to produce medicines, and is making progress in applications from water purification to materials design. The topic is, however, controversial, and that is jeopardizing its promise. Environmental groups argue that it poses risks to health and the environment and have called for a global moratorium. We have been here before: exaggerated fears and uncritical acceptance of claims of the risks of genetic modification led to excessively cautious regulation and a block on innovation that not only slowed the development of new products, but also deterred basic science. The debate over synthetic biology is now entering a critical phase.

…In the case of synthetic biology, the world needs to commit to addressing several priorities. First, the scope of synthetic biology needs be determined. We describe it as the construction of customized biological systems to perform new and improved functions, through the application of principles from engineering and chemical synthesis.

More here.