Author: Margo Bagley (University of Virginia)
Synthetic biology has the potential to provide cures for numerous diseases, stable supplies of therapeutic compounds, and new organisms and products that are limited only by the human imagination. But synthetic biology also has the potential to cause profound disruptions to the environment, and to the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farmers in the Global South who rely on growing and harvesting natural products. It also has the potential to impact how a recent treaty, the Nagoya Protocol, will be implemented in national laws and even has the potential to impact the scope of a potential new genetic resource agreement being negotiated at the World Intellectual Property Organization.
However, it is also quite possible that neither the grand promises nor dire perils of synthetic biology will ever be realized. This paper will explore some of the emerging issues at the intersection of synthetic biology research, intellectual property and biodiversity protection, and human economic development.