Desktop version

Home arrow Environment arrow Biosafety and the environmental uses of micro-organisms : conference proceedings.


Some items in the discussion on environmental risk assessment of genetically engineered algae may demand a special focus.

Familiarity with key algal species

While there is a some familiarity with a number of key species that have already been used extensively in actual production and that may serve as a baseline for assessment, for many species, little is known about their roles in the environment, and thus extrapolation from observations under culture to conditions expected if released from culture is difficult.

Table 6.2. Summary of five main research categories for environmental risk assessments of synthetic biology applications

Research category

Specific questions

Reasons given by participants

Rates of evolution and changes in functionality Survival and persistence of the organism

  • - Investigate the rate of evolution for changes in functionality.
  • - Is the organism compatible with the environment and other populations?
  • - Can the organism survive in a dormant or resting state?
  • - What is the “fitness cost” of the engineered gene and how much of a fitness cost would encourage rapid fall off or “extinction” of the organism in the wild?
  • - How many survival competition tests are needed? Studies should include a whole community analysis, under a variety of environmental conditions.
  • - Consider everyone (e.g. the grazers), not just the competitors.
  • (Not given a high priority, and therefore no reason given)
  • - Encapsulates the genetic history of the organism and useful in understanding its evolution.
  • - Companies are not expected to do a lot of work in this area; this information is difficult to come by, but important.

Fate and transport of functional genetic material

  • - Ability of DNA to persist after death?
  • - Which (groups of) organisms may acquire the gene?
  • - Does the target gene remain functional in other hosts?
  • - In what ways can the target gene alter existing genomes?
  • - Introduce fragments of the introduced cassette and measure what is picked up by other micro-organisms.
  • - As the general public would be very interested in this, a risk assessment would certainly need to cover this.
  • - Fills in gaps, leads to useful information for both regulation and the development of organisms.
  • - But it is also the subject that is least understood of what was talked about in the workshop, and therefore most interesting.
  • - Most relevant from the policy perspective.
  • - A risk we do not understand.
  • - Limiting fate of genetic material.

Physiological differences and differences in functionality between the wild and novel organism

  • - What is the natural risk of these wild organisms (baseline considerations)?
  • - How do we compare the additional risk due to novel genes?
  • - Investigate secondary metabolites. How many should we look at and at what concentrations?
  • - What are cells doing on a daily basis? Have they changed? Are they the same cells you started with? Are they behaving as desired?
  • - Generate a profile of how the genome and the products of the cell are changed by the addition of engineered genes.
  • - Captures a broad understanding of the organism before it is modified and allows the modified organism to be compared with a baseline.
  • - By focusing on this category, issues contained in research categories 1 and 2 would be addressed.
  • - This is a “need to know” before it can be said whether the new organism will change ecosystems.
  • - This category has the least amount of available data.
  • - This represents the hazard part of the risk assessment which is important.
  • - This will be the trigger of regulation.
  • - This information is important for the first step for the risk assessment and will temper what questions to ask in other areas.

Probabilistic modelling of gene transfer

  • - Can modellers guide the parameters and data needed to predict gene uptake?
  • - Would a model separate naturally occurring genes prevalent enough to assume that they have been thoroughly sampled throughout evolution from ones that are rare be useful? Can we create a threshold of exoticism for genes to guide us?

(Not given a high priority, and therefore no reason given)

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics