11 August 2009
A new report has outlined how Germany should move forward in the area of synthetic biology, the de novo creation of novel biological systems (see Nature news report). Whilst some aspects of synthetic biology are highly contentious, for example the creation of new forms of life such as artificial construction of viruses (including as potential bioweapons), some applications have obvious benefits, such as the production of drug-like molecules or biofuels. Synthetic biology is an area of simultaneous interest and concern for many countries; for example, a recent UK report examined the report on the social and ethical challenges posed by such research (see previous news).
The new document, produced jointly by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the German Academy of Science and Engineering, reportedly concludes that Germany’s technological strengths make it ideally placed to work in this area, but also calls for debate on ethical issues given the risk of abuse. It also recommends the creation of a national database to hold information about artificially created DNA sequences and to conduct safety assessments for these sequences.