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You Need to Know: All About Synthetic Biology Foods You Need to Know: All About Synthetic Biology Foods

- (Huffington) - 2 years ago...

The latest term buzzing around the food world is one you're not likely to know: synthetic biology, or "synbio." Grist calls it "the next front in the never-ending GMO war." So while we're still figuring out what to make of GMOs, farmers, food suppliers and chefs should start to get to know this new method for developing foods. What exactly is synthetic biology and how is it different than genetically engineered--or GMO--foods? Think of it this way: Generally, genetically engineered foods take desired genes from one organism and cut and paste them into another organism. Synthetic biology instead treats genes like computer code, remixing DNA sequences to create foods (and medicines and biofuels and lots of other things) that are not seen in nature. Scientists are literally printing DNA and then placing that DNA in e-coli or yeast. "If genetic sequencing is about reading DNA, and genetic engineering as we know it is about copying, cutting and pasting it, synthetic biology is about writing and programming new DNA with two main goals: create genetic machines from scratch and gain new insights about how life works," writes Josie Garthwaite for The Atlantic. Todd Kuiken, a senior program associate with the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, calls synbio "the next stage of genetic engineering." Some say the global market for synbio will reach $16 billion by 2018. Still confused? This video does a great job of explaining the basics: Why would we want synbio foods? Well, a few reasons. Number one on the list is climate change. "In the face of energy and water constraints, a squeeze on cultivable land, and an imperative to limit greenhouse gas emissions, synbio could also transform the way we farm and eat," writes Garthwaite. "By assembling biological systems from genetic code catalogued in online databases and fine-tuned through computer modeling, they could deliver more-nutritious crops that thrive with less water, land, and energy, and fewer chemical inputs, in more variable climates and on lands that otherwise would not support intensive farming." Agriculture, after all, accounts for 70 percent of all water use. The inefficient and destructive systems of monoculture farming, pesticide and antibiotic use, along with factory-farmed livestock, wreak havoc on human, animal and environmental health. "We need to reduce carbon emissions and toxic inputs, use less land and water, combat pests, and increase soil fertility," plant geneticist Pamela Ronald, director of the Laboratory for Crop Genetics Innovation at the University of California, Davis has said. There is even the possibility of self-fertilizing synbio plants, which the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development writes "could revolutionize agriculture and would significantly decouple agriculture from the oil industry." It's yet one m...

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