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Prospects and potential new biosafety projects for the OECD

A major aim of the OECD conference on the “Environmental Uses of Micro-Organisms: An Overview of the State-of-the-Art and Implications for Biotechnology Risk/Safety Assessment” was to provide a state-of-the-art overview of the environmental uses of micro-organisms, focusing on concrete or expected developments in the field of transgenic organisms, as a support for the development of the work programme of the Sub-Working Group on Micro-Organisms of the Working Group on the Harmonization of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology (WG-HROB).

Based on the results of the conference, it can be concluded that there are two clear areas where research has progressed to an extent that use of transgenic organisms actually occurs or is forthcoming, and could be very important for further economic developments: the use of micro-organisms in agriculture and the use of microalgae for production purposes (see Parts I and II). Projects in these areas would fit very well with the OECD’s work on green growth and sustainable development. The specific issues that would be tackled in these projects would be the scientifically sound approach of risk assessment of environmental releases of transgenic organisms for these purposes.

The ideas that were put forward in the considerations on the use of micro-organisms in bioremediation (see Part III) are conceptually very important, as are the considerations on the analysis of microbial populations in the environment that is a major underlying theme in discussions on the environmental uses of micro-organisms (see, for instance, Part VI). These ideas would be a good basis for a conceptual document on how knowledge on microbial populations is gathered, and how this knowledge can be applied for predicting the behavior of soil micro-organisms, for optimising the (wanted) activity of micro-organisms in the soil (e.g. in bioremediation), as well as for optimising risk assessment of released micro-organisms. It has become clear that these underlying considerations are not always straightforward. The further development of these lines of thought, for instance in a guidance document, would be a very important complement to the projects mentioned above.

Environmental applications of microbial symbionts of insects are a specific niche within environmental microbiology that holds large promises for future developments, developments that could be very important from an economic as well as from a public health point of view. The scientific underpinning of the developments in these fields is not generally known even to all microbiologists, and they are not straightforward. A project to draft a conceptual document about the developments in this field could therefore be very important to help the development of regulation in this field proactively.

These considerations and the proposed projects will be further discussed in the Sub-Working Group on Micro-Organisms. The sub-working group will submit its conclusions to the WG-HROB, which will decide on whether and which project(s) will be initiated, while taking into account the available resources.

References

de Lorenzo, V. (2008), “Systems biology approaches to bioremediation”, Current Opinion in Biotechnology, No. 19, pp. 579-589.

de Wit, R. and T. Bouvier (2006), “'Everything is everywhere, but, the environment selects': What did Baas Becking and Beijerinck really say?”, Environmental Microbiology, No. 8, pp. 755-758.

Torsvik, V., J. Goksoyr and F.L. Daae (1990), “High diversity in DNA of soil bacteria”, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, No. 56, pp.782-787.

 
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