Synthetic Biology

What “synthetic biology” is, whether and how it should be regulated, and its potential benefits and adverse impacts are fiercely debated issues under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The CBD is an international treaty governing the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of its use.

The CBD’s subsidiary agreement, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety elaborates rules and procedures for the safe handling, transfer and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology. These two international treaties impact the regulation of products of modern biotechnology, and therefore synthetic biology, from research activities to the commercialisation of products. The CBD has been almost universally ratified among United Nations members (excluding the United States), and is the primary forum for international negotiations on the regulation of synthetic biology.

There is strong support within the CBD synthetic biology work program for the view that there is no need to develop a new regulatory framework for synthetic biology, or any other rules, procedures or guidance in the absence of demonstrated need. This viewpoint is based on, and supported by, the scientific and regulatory opinions issued by a number of national and international organisations and scientific institutions. However, the Parties and NGOs that are calling for development of additional regulatory oversight for synthetic biology continue to strongly push their viewpoint, despite its lack of credible support.

The issues arising in the CBD synthetic biology work program will be discussed at two international meetings in 2018: firstly, at the 22nd meeting of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Issues (SBSTTA) in July 2018, and subsequently, with further follow-up negotiations taking place at the 14th meeting of the Parties to the CBD in November 2018.

Further Reading

  • For CropLife International’s views on this developing issue, please click here [English / Spanish]
  • Click here for an overview of activities related to synthetic biology at the global, regional, and national levels.
  • You can also find more information on synthetic biology in our database of papers relating to the safety and benefits of agricultural biotechnology products.