UFZ EnergyDays 2016 - Session A1

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Social implications of synthetic biology in energy production

Coordinators and chairpersons: Sarah Hackfort, Conrad Kunze


The rapidly emerging field of Synthetic Biology (SB) opens dimensions of nature to planed alterations of DNA and even creation of new organisms by humans yet unseen. In the multifold fields of application, energy is one major topic. SB is already applied in R&D projects in large scale algae cultivation in Central America, it allows for new forms of genetically manipulated short rotation crops, possibly as part of the so called climate smart agriculture program (CSA) and research efforts are made for microorganisms that could increase exploitable global gas reserves by 40-60% (ETC/HBS 2015a).
As industrial use of SB microorganisms as part of the bioeconomy begins to produce supplements for palm oil, vanilla, vetiver and many other high value food products, the share of original products in land use and markets might drop and dependence on biomass, e.g. sugar cane might rise.
The session will address the social consequences of SB in different fields of its application, to sketch a social science research agenda. One main question is, how SB really differs from conventional DNA manipulation, how it is part of the bioeconomy and how energy production will be affected.

The 90 Minute session is definitely too short to explain technical details of SB. Therefore participants are urgently asked to prepare in advance.
An introduction can be found obviously at Wikipedia, for the newer developments see:

  • UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP)/UNEP 2014, Report 82, Synthetic Biology.
  • ETC/HBS, 2015a, Extreme Biotech meets Extreme Energy.
  • ETC/HBS, 2015b, Outsmarting Nature, New Report Questions Risky Synthetic Biology Developments Promoted Under “Climate-Smart” Guise.


16:30 - 16:50 Synthetic biology and its political and social context
Conrad Kunze1, Sarah Hackfort2
1 Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ
2 IZT - Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment
16:50 - 17:10 Synthetic biology - The next phase of biotechnology and genetic engineering
Steffen Albrecht
Office of Technology Assessment (TAB) at the German Bundestag
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
17:10 - 17:30 Phase out model Homo Sapiens
Thomas Wagner
Freelance author
17:30 - 17:50 The bioeconomy and land grabs in Latin America - Experiences and outlook
Thomas Fatheuer

Centre for Research and Documentation Chile-Latin America
17:50 - 18:10 Can synthetic biology really make biofuels more sustainable?
Almuth Ernsting
18:10 - 18:30 Biotechnology and financial markets
Kean Birch
York University