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East Bay | Environment & Forest Defense

Tuesday Berkeley City Council Meeting (7/10): "Synthetic Biology"
by Green
Monday Jul 9th, 2012 7:49 PM
Berkeley is set to become the world center for "synthetic biology" and now is the time to come out and speak out about it. Synthetic biology aims to create life from scratch with computer-synthesized DNA, but the field is essentially unregulated and funded by oil companies like Chevron, BP and Shell, as well as the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, bent on increasing corporate profits regardless of the risk to us all.

Activists working on a number of issues will be at tomorrow's Berkeley City Council meeting to lobby that various provisions be included in the West Berkeley Project Plan that will placed on the ballot.

Among those issues are mandatory community benefits (such as affordable housing), protecting aquatic park, and restrictions on potentially dangerous use of the proposed office spaces, such as allowing **synthetic biology** research to take place there.

Synthetic biology is "the design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems that do not exist in the natural world and also the redesigning of existing biological systems to perform specific tasks."

So instead of inserting genes from one species into another, which is considered more traditional genetic engineering, synthetic biology creates life from scratch with computer-synthesized DNA or without the use of DNA entirely. The U.S. government and the oil industry are the major funders of synthetic biology research so far – supporting start-up synthetic biology companies
with hundreds of millions of dollars.

A Risky Development:

The University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the US Department of Energy have unveiled plans to build a high profile biotech laboratory in the East Bay. The lab and associated commercial activity will focus on developing biofuels and other products using synthetic biology: an extreme form of genetic engineering that creates artificial life.

Ground Zero for Syn Bio:

Already a multi-billion dollar field, synthetic biology is fast becoming the next 'biotech bubble' with the Bay Area as ground zero for this new industry. The San Francisco Bay Area is already home to over a dozen synthetic biology companies backed by some of the world's largest energy, pharmaceutical, chemical and agribusiness players as well as "garage biotech" hackers. The next generation biofuels under development are a false solution to our environmental crises. The risks synthetic biology poses to worker safety, public health, social justice, and the environment are poorly understood and are as yet effectively unregulated.

Please come out and hear what people are concerned about and speak out if you too are concerned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
7:00 P.M.
Council Chambers - 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Teleconference Location:
130 San Vicente Blvd., Apt 142B, Santa Monica, CA 90402

Action Calendar – New Business

West Berkeley Project
From: City Manager
1. Adopt a Resolution certifying the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Master Use Permit amendments to the West Berkeley Plan and Zoning Ordinance and adopting CEQA findings and the Mitigation Monitoring Program;
2. Adopt a Resolution placing the attached measure to adopt the Master Use Permit Amendments on the ballot at the November 6, 2012 General Municipal Election.
3. Determine whether to designate, by motion, specific members of the Council to file ballot measure arguments on this measure as provided for in Elections Code Section 9282.
4. Adopt a Resolution referring the issues of Community Benefit Agreements, an Aquatic Park Protection Package and site aggregation to the Planning Commission.
Financial Implications: See report
Contact: Zach Cowan, City Attorney, 981-6950


Environmental Harms:

Synthetic biology threatens the world’s biodiversity through the contamination of genomes that have evolved over billions of years with synthetic DNA. Once it has contaminated a species, this synthetic DNA cannot be recalled and will pass on indefinitely through generations.

Some applications involve growing synthetic organisms in open ponds or intentionally releasing them into the environment. While other types of pollution can be cleaned up and do not breed, synthetic biological creations are designed to self-replicate and once released into the environment they would be impossible to stop.

The ways in which these organisms will interact with the natural environment is unpredictable, potentially devastating, and permanent. A synthetic organism designed for a specific task, such as eating up oil from oil spills in the ocean, could interact with naturally occurring organisms and adversely harm the environment. The synthetic organism could displace existing organisms or interfere with the existing ecosystem. Once it found an ecological niche in which to survive, it would be difficult if not impossible to eradicate.

Socioeconomic Harms:

Synthetic biology is creating a new “bioeconomy” in which any and all types of biomass can become a feedstock to produce industrial products such as fuel, chemicals, medicines, and plastics.

Theoretically any product made from petrochemicals can one day be made by syn-thetic microbes in a vat eating plant sugars. But who will decide what plant matter is turned into an industrial feed stock, who decides what land is used to grow food or bio-mass, and whose land will be used to grow these feedstocks for synthetic organisms?

Synthetic biology enthusiasts falsely assume there will be an endless supply of biomass and “marginal” land to fuel their biological revolution. These “marginal” lands are often the source of livelihood for small-scale farmers, pastoralists, women, and indigenous peoples. These “marginal” lands should be used to grow food for local communities, not fuel or industrial chemicals for wealthy nations. Synthetic organisms require an incredible amount of land, water, and fertilizer – all of which are already in short supply for food production. Increasing pressure on already strained land will only worsen issues of land grabbing, land ownership, biodiversity, and the health of the land and surrounding communities.

Biosecurity Threats:

The poliovirus and the 1918 Spanish Influenza have already been recreated using mail-order DNA from a DNA synthesis company and were proven to be deadly in lab rats. A growing “Do-it-Yourself biology” movement that encourages the use of synthetic biology tools in people’s garages increases the risk that dangerous pathogens may be intentionally or unintentionally created and released.


The Bay Area Bio Lab & Synthetic Biology, False Solutions Part 1

The Bay Area Bio Lab & Synthetic Biology, False Solutions Part Two, Panel Discussion

Berkeley Scholar Raises Alarm on Synthetic Biology


Alliance for Humane Biotechnology

ETC Group
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ChevronEarl RichardsTuesday Jul 10th, 2012 2:26 AM