Science and Economics

Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation

Synthetic biology has no widely agreed definition. However, it is commonly understood as a field where engineering principles are applied to biology to design, construct or modify biological parts or systems.
Structure of DNA

This field is developing extremely rapidly with multiple implications for food security, agriculture, trade, health and geo-engineering. Its applications will also affect global biodiversity in unknown ways.

The development of synthetic biology relates not only to conservation but also to sustainable use and fair and equitable sharing of benefits, issues of central importance to IUCN and its membership. However, there is a lack of agreement regarding the current development of synthetic biology and its implications for conservation, not to mention the prospects of future developments.

There is a pressing need for authoritative, balanced guidance that can help the conservation community, governments, and companies to reach common ground on the associated risks and opportunities of synthetic biology and how these should be addressed.

Recognizing the unsettled and uncertain nature of developments in this field, in 2016 IUCN Members adopted Resolution 6.086 titled “Development of IUCN policy on biodiversity conservation and synthetic biology”, to examine the impacts of the production and use of the products resulting from synthetic biology on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, to recommend how IUCN could engage in ongoing discussions and deliberations with the synthetic biology community and to develop guidance on the topic.

In early 2018, an IUCN Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation Task Force, representative of all the 6 IUCN Commissions and Secretariat, was created  to oversee the implementation of Resolution 6.086 and it is expected to develop policy recommendations for the consideration of the IUCN Council before the 2020 World Conservation Congress.

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Genetic frontiers for conservation : an assessment of synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation : synthesis and key messages

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Genetic frontiers for conservation : an assessment of synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation : technical assessment

2 August 2019 -  Read the Statement on the Integrity of the work of IUCN Taskforce on Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation

Leer la Declaración sobre el trabajo del Grupo de trabajo de la UICN sobre biología sintética y conservación de la biodiversidad

Lire la Déclaration sur les travaux du Groupe de travail de l’UICN sur la biologie de synthèse et la conservation de la biodiversité


Financial support to development of this assessment was provided by the Federal Office of the Environment of Switzerland, the Luc Hoffmann Institute of World Wildlife Fund – International, the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition of France, and by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The assessment was written based on discussions held at Jesus College, Cambridge, UK (April 2018), the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, Nazaré Paulista, Brazil (July 2018), and IUCN offices, Washington D.C. (November 2018).

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