02/02/2007

Guidance on activities with genetically modified organisms

Synthetic biology involves the redesign of natural biological systems for the
creation of bioengineered microorganisms as well as the construction of
functional 'genetic circuits' and metabolic pathways for practical purposes.
Successfully engineered microorganisms could be self-sustaining and able to
evolve. Therefore, they pose potential risks to both human health and the
environment. Due to the complexity of biological processes required to generate
a synthetic microorganism, it might be expected that most successful
constructions would be expected to be less viable than their natural
counterparts. Therefore, they would not be expected to pose significant risk to
human health unless they are based upon human pathogens or contain known
pathogenic mechanisms. Similarly, it is not anticipated that they would pose a
risk to animal or plant health, unless they had been engineered with those
properties. In the event of a release, they would therefore be expected to
die-out rapidly. These organisms would be unique, however, and could occupy a
novel niche or out-compete another species.

Given that the goal of synthetic biology is to create novel microorganisms,
many of the risks associated with such activities will be complex, indefinable
and difficult to anticipate with any degree of precision. Like more traditional
GM approaches, however, many of those risks could be estimated based upon
knowledge of the microorganisms and biological processes on which they are
based. It is important, however, to acknowledge uncertainty and to deal with it
using the precautionary principle. Therefore, work of this type is likely to
attract higher containment measures than would otherwise be applicable to the
organisms on which they are based, or from which the genetic information has
been derived.

A Compendium of Guidance has been published on the British Health and Safety
Executive (HSE) website to assist those who must manage the risks posed by
contained use activities with genetically modified organisms.
The guidance is the product of co-operation between a number of government
agencies and the Scientific Advisory Committee for Genetic Modification
(Contained Use).


Further info


AplusA-online.de - Source: Health and Safety Executive