More government research into synthetic biology needed, government says

According to experts in synthetic biology, $20 million to $30 million in government research is needed over the next decade to identify and assess potential ecological risks of synthetic biology.

Synthetic biology is an emerging research area focused on creating and constructing new biological systems and parts or the modification of existing ones. Members of the Synthetic Biology Project warn that without research into the risks and appropriate federal oversight, some synthetic organisms could flourish in natural environment and cause damage to local ecosystems.

David Rejeski, Todd Kuiken and Genya V. Dana wrote the article, which appeared in the journal Nature on Thursday. The Synthetic Biology Project is an initiative to foster informed policy discussions about the advancement of synthetic biology and is associated with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"No one yet understands the risks that synthetic organisms pose to the environment, what kinds of information are needed to support rigorous assessments, or who should collect such data," the authors wrote, Nature reports.

The authors said that while similar questions had been raised about genetically modified crops, synthetic biology products will be modified in more sophisticated ways that could make them tougher to manage. The authors recommend that the research should be started before expected advancements in the field.

"Synthetic biology has already moved out of the lab, propelled by significant public and private investments in organisms modified to produce chemicals, medicines and biofuels," the authors wrote, according to Nature.

The authors warn that the research will take time and that it must be a part of the larger agenda for synthetic biology research.

"Public agencies must link basic and environmental risk research by co-funding projects and requiring grant recipients to work with environmental scientists from the start," the authors wrote, Nature reports.