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Biological Disciplines Meet to Break, Then Maybe Fix, Bread

At a conference April 9th to 11th, conservation biologists and synthetic biologists will try to find common ground. Steve Mirsky reports

Synthetic biologists design and make biological devices and systems for useful purposes. Conservation biologists study biodiversity to protect species and habitat. The two groups don’t talk to each other much. Conservation biologist Kent Redford thus organized a conference, the aim: “A better communication and an attempt on our part to instill some of our values into the lives and decisions made by synthetic biologists; to change the path that those technologies may take, to make them less environmentally harmful, if not in fact environmentally beneficial.”

The conference, “How will synthetic biology and conservation shape the future of nature?”, is at Clare College in Cambridge, England, April 9th to 11th. Redford, formerly with the Wildlife Conservation Society and now at this own Archipelago Consulting, is a co-author of a paper in the journal PLoS Biology [Kent H. Redford, William Adams, and Georgina M. Mace, Synthetic Biology and Conservation of Nature: Wicked Problems and Wicked Solutions] that frames the issues the conference will begin to address. These include the possibility of resurrecting extinct species, interactions between synthetic and existing organisms, and how the public could be helped or harmed by synthetic biology in, for example, agriculture. “If we can start that conversation at that meeting, I’ll be a happy guy.”

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[To hear a detailed discussion with Kent Redford, check out the Science Talk podcast, on iTunes or at www.scientificamerican.com]

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