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Synthetic biology -- opportunities and risks
Date:8/3/2009

The new research field of synthetic biology will, in the medium term, open up a great deal of potential for combining novel genetic methods with engineering principles. This will facilitate the development, not only of new vaccines and medicines, but also of fuels and new materials. Early-stage dialogue with the public on the natural science, legal, economic and ethical issues is crucial for the success and acceptance of this new technology. With a joint position paper on the opportunities and risks posed by synthetic biology, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), acatech (the German Academy of Science and Engineering), and the German Academy of Scientists Leopoldina, the National Academy of Sciences, now want to initiate this dialogue.

The new statement was presented today by the Presidents of the three organisations, Professors Matthias Kleiner (DFG), Reinhard Httl (acatech) and Volker ter Meulen (Leopoldina), at a press conference in Berlin.

In four chapters totalling 40 pages, the research policy paper takes a stance on selected research fields, current challenges, and the safety and ethical issues raised by the forward-looking research field of synthetic biology.

In synthetic biology, two research approaches predominate: on the one hand, inanimate substances are used to construct "the building blocks of life". These are then combined to form a living organism. On the other, researchers attempt to remove components from natural organisms and replace them with others in order to create artificial life forms. These methods are based on the advances in gene technology, in particular the technical feasibility of increasingly rapidly decoding genetic information and re-synthesising it. In the medium term, the potential applications of synthetic biology range from medicine and environmental technology right through to biotechnology.

A group of experts led by Berlin-based microbiologist Profess
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Contact: Dr. Eva-Maria Streier
em.streier@dfg.de
49-228-885-2250
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Source:Eurekalert

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