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Synthetic Biology Creates New Engineered Food

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

Old McDonald had a farm with some cows, horses, and pigs, but on that farm he probably didn't have synagriculture. Say what? Synagriculture is the latest trend in the world of farming, and it doesn't involve overalls, backhoes, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In fact, synagriculture makes GMOs look as dated as flat-screens make the old 90-pound consoles look.

Synagriculture originates from what is known as synthetic biology. According to an abstract in the Idaho Law Review, "Synthetic biology seeks to purge biology of some of its fundamental inefficiencies through the rigorous application of engineering principles. Rather than tinkering around the edges, biological engineering would remake living organisms from first principles, and employ standard parts to make qualitatively new biological devices and systems."

As applied to food, synthetic biology involves creating vegetables, fruits, grains, and other edibles from the beginning, either using synthesized genetic parts or by rearranging natural biological parts. In other words, it means creating entirely new types of engineered food that have never existed before on earth and may bear no biological relationship to what we now enjoy for dinner. It means foods that will have to be patented.

While advocates of synagriculture point to the possibility of creating wonderful new disease-resistant engineered food and thus feeding the world, there's plenty to be worried about. And the worries extend far beyond the obvious concerns about depending on synthetic nutrition created by corporate interests. The kicker is that as synthetic biology takes off in the lab, a new movement called DIYbio, or "Do it Yourself Biology," has young mad scientists working in their garages. Apparently, labs have been popping up in private homes and community locations at an ever increasing pace, allowing tinkering amateurs to try their hands at rearranging cells, genes, and organisms. The website, has a forum with posts bearing titles such as "Free plasmids for amateur biologists," "Genome compiler," and "Translating bacterial DNA into plant DNA." More than 2000 people already participate in the network.

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