Centre moots policy on synthetic biology

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Centre moots policy on synthetic biology

  • The Center is working on a national policy on synthetic biology

What is synthetic biology?

  • Synthetic biology is an emerging science that deals with engineering life forms for a wide range of applications from making designer medicines to foods.
  • Some examples of what scientists are producing with synthetic biology are:
  • Microorganisms harnessed for bioremediation to clean pollutants from our water, soil and air.
  • Modified rice to produce beta-carotene, a nutrient usually associated with carrots, that prevents vitamin
  • Yeast engineered to produce rose oil

Applications of synthetic biology:

  • The potential benefits from synthetic biotechnology are seen in biofuels, bioremediation, biosensors, food and health.
  • Use of gene editing systems such as CRISPR that allow defective genes in animals, plants and even people to be silenced, or changed, and control biological outcomes.

Government’s Response so Far:

  • As part of the 12th Five-Year Plan, India had set up a task force on systems biology and synthetic biology research in 2011.
  • It made a strong case for a push for the technology and highlighted that India could be a world leader as a protector and supporter of “open source biological platforms”.
  • Parliament is yet to clear the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2013, that had mooted the creation of an independent regulator to adjudicate research around genetic engineering that could have also encompassed synthetic biology.
  • There’s also a ban on commercial genetically modified brinjal and many States have restrictions on field trials on GM food crops.

What are the Challenges?

  • Regulatory Challenges: The regulatory challenge is how to leverage its anticipated benefits while guarding against its potential risks. The laws and regulations governing traditional tools most often fail to fully adapt to the evolving possibilities of synthetic biology.
  • Security Challenges: Biosafety and biosecurity issues emerging from research in synthetic biology.
  • Lack of Research: India is lagging behind in this field of research and an urgent need arises to expand the research base if India wishes to accelerate the field of synthetic biology.