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Philipp Böing

Founder: Darwin Toolbox, SynBioSoc / UCL iGEM organizer, University College London

TEDCRED 200+

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Should Synthetic Organisms be released to clean plastic pollution from the ocean?

The Problem: Microplastic pollution in the ocean.
Proposed Solution: Engineered Organisms that can collect the pollution into recyclable pieces. (the science behind this: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/igem2012 )
A video explanation: http://youtu.be/rEDLg03teOk

Should Synthetic Organisms be released to clean plastic pollution from the ocean? Is synthetic biology the only solution to plastic pollution? Can we anticipate and prevent any negative repercussions? Do the potential risks outweigh the benefits? Who could profit from this? Who calls the shots?

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  • Jul 16 2012: Hi, I am one of the members of this iGEM team. Here's some added information about our project that we would like your opinion on. In order to prevent horizontal gene transfer, we are engineering a system of "kill switch" genes into our cells. In effect, if the cells lose their engineered plasmids to wild type cells, this triggers they system, killing the cells, and preventing the introduced genes from entering the environment.

    Separately, we have an exonuclease system that will degenerate any extracellular DNA, preventing genes from being released into the environment after cell death.

    What other kinds of safeguards do you think are necessary if such a system is actually put into place?
    • Jul 16 2012: I am a biomedical science graduate. Although what you are saying has been proven, i still believe there is still a chance of gene recombination that could result in the deactivation kill switch'. I am fine with the use of GEM organisms in the lab and in treating patients. but I am very reluctant of their use in a large eco system such as the ocean. If anything goes wrong, it cannot be easily corrected.
      I think the best solution is to educate people about the use of plastic and promote recycling. And as Charles suggested, the best solution is to stop the production and use of plastic.
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        Jul 18 2012: "[...] there is still a chance of gene recombination that could result in the deactivation [of the] kill switch[es]'"

        You sum it up perfectly, Oyeronke. The foreseeable is quite finite and obviously non-inclusive of the unforeseeable.

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