Huge technical advances in molecular biology and big data biology are leading us towards a ‘forth industrial revolution’ with the ongoing development of novel genetic engineering techniques being reviewed by the UN Conventions for Biological Diversity, under the term ‘synthetic biology’.

Such techniques are widening the scope and extent to which organisms can be modified, raising renewed biopiracy concerns, and extending a long history of resource extraction from the African continent. They further threaten farmer livelihoods, biodiversity of the region and introduce novel biosafety concerns to both human health and the environment.

The current regulatory environment needs to be urgently updated and reviewed to stay abreast of these advances, with particular attention to the environmental release of synthetic biology organisms.

This briefing reviews some of the synthetic biology developments that are likely to affect the region. Such developments include the production of synthetic versions of highly prized natural fragrances or ingredients such as vanilla and shea butter, the recent introduction of new versions of GM organisms such as crops utilising RNA interference technologies, sequence data collection of important crops such as moringa and teff, and the upcoming trial on GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, that is intended to ultimately result in the release of gene drive mosquitoes.

For the full briefing paper, please click on the link below.