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Biosafety is the prevention of large-scale loss of biological integrity, focusing both on ecology and human health. These prevention mechanisms include conduction of regular reviews of the biosafety in laboratory settings, as well as strict guidelines to follow. Biosafety is used to protect us from harmful incidents. High security facilities are necessary when working with Synthetic Biology as there are possibilities of bioterrorism acts or release of harmful chemicals and or organisms into the environment. A complete understanding of experimental risks associated with synthetic biology is helping to enforce the knowledge and effectiveness of biosafety.
Biosafety is related to several fields:
The international Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety deals primarily with the agricultural definition but many advocacy groups seek to expand it to include post-genetic threats: new molecules, artificial life forms, and even robots which may compete directly in the natural food chain.
Biosafety in agriculture, chemistry, medicine, exobiology and beyond will likely require application of the precautionary principle, and a new definition focused on the biological nature of the threatened organism rather than the nature of the threat.
When biological warfare or new, currently hypothetical, threats (i.e., robots, new artificial bacteria) are considered, biosafety precautions are generally not sufficient. The new field of biosecurity addresses these complex threats.
Typically, institutions that experiment with or create potentially harmful biological material will have a committee or board of supervisors that is in charge of the institution's biosafety. They create and monitor the biosafety standards that must be met by labs in order to prevent the accidental release of potentially destructive biological material.
With the potential future creation of man-made unicellular organisms, some are beginning to consider the effect that these organisms will have on biomass already present. Scientists estimate that within the next few decades, organism design will be sophisticated enough to accomplish tasks such as creating biofuels and lowering the levels of harmful substances in the atmosphere. Scientist that favor the development of synthetic biology claim that the use of biosafety mechanisms such as suicide genes and nutrient dependencies will ensure the organisms cannot survive outside of the lab setting in which they were originally created. Organizations like the ETC Group argue that regulations should control the creation of organisms that could potentially harm existing life. They also argue that the development of these organisms will simply shift the consumption of petroleum to the utilization of biomass in order to create energy. These organisms can harm existing life by affecting the prey/predator food chain, reproduction between species, as well as competition against other species (species at risk, or act as an invasive species). Synthetic vaccines are now being produced in the lab. These have caused a lot of excitement in the pharmaceutical industry as they will be cheaper to produce, allow quicker production, as well enhance the knowledge of virology and immunology.
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