Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Microbes set to alter the economy"

From Nature:
Gene editing stands to accelerate the engineering of microbes for industrial production of food ingredients, pharmaceuticals, biofuels, chemicals and biomaterials. There is a risk, however, that microbial biotechnologies could destabilize economies and employment in the developing world that depend on supplying naturally occurring ingredients. For example, a biosynthetic process for making a precursor of the antimalarial drug artemisinin has been developed, which could threaten the jobs of farmers who harvest its natural source, the plant Artemisia annua.

Microbial processes hold promise for global sustainable development: they are cheaper, consume less energy and pollute less than oil-based manufacturing, and they use renewable feedstocks (V. de Lorenzo et al. EMBO Rep. 19, e45658; 2018). Yet it is imperative that international stakeholders assess and address any social-justice problems that could arise from such applications (see C. G. Acevedo-Rocha in Ambivalences of Creating Life 9–53; Springer, 2016). Long-term commitment will be necessary to close the communication gap between scholars from different disciplines, cultures, values and generations (see also S. Jasanoff and J. B. Hurlbut Nature 555, 435–437; 2018).