In April 2013, a group of ‘bio-hackers’ from California used the social media fund-raising website Kickstarter to raise almost half a million dollars to commercialise a synthetic biology plant that glows in the dark. In exchange for seed funding the ‘glowing plant project; promised to send 100’s of thousands of bioengineered seeds to over 6000 random individuals across North America – in effect a large unregulated release of a synthetic organism. Because the technology is so new the US Department of Agriculture has declared itself unable to regulate it and despite vocal opposition from ecologists and the ETC Group, the Glowing Plant company will start mailing out its synbio plants in September 2014.
Of course we have no way of knowing the impacts these synthetic organisms will have on the environment and the project sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to the uncontrolled release of synthetic organisms. On their Etsy store website the Glowing Plant team state: “Show your friends you care about sustainability and help inspire others about the potential of synthetic biology to make the world a better place.” Huh?