The recent announcement of the creation of the first synthetic yeast chromosome sent shockwaves through the scientific community. Scientists claim this and other applications of synthetic biology will allow us to understand lots more about how our own human cells function. However, we can be certain that biotechnology corporations will steer these new technologies towards anything which will potentially create profit, ignoring any potential long-term adverse consequences.
The researchers have been deliberately trying to engineer a synthetic yeast which can outcompete wild yeast. What’s more, microorganisms are renowned for their ability to swap genes – meaning that the synthetic DNA may not be confined to the synthetic yeast for long. We only need to look to the ability of bacteria to swap and trade antimicrobial resistance genes when confronted with nano-silver or antibiotics.
Scientists have found that yeasts have a critical role in flowering plants – promoting root growth and establishing symbiosis with healthy soil mycorrhizae, and fermenting flower nectar to warm the flower, which enhances pollen germination and distribution by insects such as bees and wasps. The release of a synthetic yeast has the potential to not just purportedly improve beer, but also wreak havoc with the very basis of our natural systems – and our agricultural systems too. Alarmingly, synthetic biology is not specifically regulated by any government in the world.