Science and Economics

Development of an IUCN policy on Synthetic Biology

In December 2015, IUCN convened scientists and conservationists to a meeting in Bellagio, Italy to understand the relevance of synthetic biology to IUCN's mission and vision, to discuss the future of synthetic biology, its role in biodiversity conservation, and ways to influence the trajectory of the application of synthetic biology to conservation. 

One outcome of the meeting was a motion that would become Resolution WCC-2016-Res-086 titled “Development of IUCN policy on biodiversity conservation and synthetic biology”. In it, the Director General and IUCN Commissions are called to: 

  • examine the organisms, components and products resulting from synthetic biology techniques and the impacts of their production and use, which may be beneficial or detrimental to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and associated social, economic, cultural and ethical considerations;
  • recommend how IUCN, including its Commissions and Members, could approach the topic of synthetic biology and engage in ongoing discussions and deliberations with the synthetic biology community;
  • assess the implications of Gene Drives and related techniques and their potential impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity as well as equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources;
  • develop IUCN guidance on this topic, while refraining from supporting or endorsing research, including field trials, into the use of gene drives for conservation or other purposes until this assessment has been undertaken. 

Proposed process and timeline for the development of an IUCN policy on synthetic biology

Early 2018: To address the requests in the Resolution, and building upon the work started by IUCN in Bellagio, a Task Force will be established to undertake a series of activities to develop an IUCN Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation assessment, and to develop policy recommendations for consideration by the IUCN Council before the 2020 World Conservation Congress.

2018: Part 1: Scientific and Policy Assessment. IUCN will conduct a broad assessment of the current state of science and policy around genomic technologies to identify potential applications and products that might impact conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity, both negatively and positively.

End 2018 through 2019: Part 2: Engagement Activities. Regional leaders will be trained and run the consultation sessions in each Regional Conservation Forum. The consolidated feedback from each Regional Conservation Forum will be sent to the IUCN Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation Task Force that will then use it to help prepare the next draft of the policy. Complementary consultations will be run with international institutions and processes that are currently grappling with synthetic biology issues or that are strongly implicated by the assessment.

2019 through May 2020: Part 3: Policy Development. Finalize an IUCN policy to guide the Director General, Commissions, and Members on biodiversity conservation in relation to synthetic biology.

2020: Part 3: IUCN World Conservation Congress

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