The Challenges of Deploying Synthetic Biology Technologies in Developing Countries

Associate Professor of Biotechnology, Zamorano University, Honduras


The planet faces a “perfect storm,” caused in large part by a growing population and environmental degradation. This will require producing more biomass for food, feed, bioenergy, fabric, and materials with less land, water, and oil, and in the face of climate change and rapid loss of biodiversity. Maintaining the status quo, especially in developing countries, is not an option; we must act now. These formidable challenges are also incredible opportunities for change. Humanity is embarking on a new powerful genomic revolution, coupled with the digital and nanotechnology revolutions. The field of synthetic biology (SB) offers the promise of revolutionary new products to enhance health and create wealth. Like biotechnology, SB will likely be regulated under the guidelines of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CP) for signatory countries. Policy makers must acknowledge both the potential of SB and the public’s deep mistrust of new, untested technologies they feel are outside their control. The future success of SB depends to a large extent on whether public policy is well-crafted. To build public confidence in the governance of SB, transparency, together with adherence to high safety and environmental standards and ethical principles, is essential. However, the all-important safety aspects of policy must be guided by scientifically defensible, risk-based approaches rather than public opinion, especially when the latter is driven by activist groups and political agendas. To promote sustainable development and global harmony, industrialized countries also have a moral imperative not to influence policies that limit development of other less advanced countries and learn from the missteps of regulating genetic engineering that illustrate that choosing a flawed paradigm has critical implications for a technology.