GYA member and DIY Biology working group co-lead Bartlomiej Kolodziejczyk (Australia) recently acted as a co-lead author for the section on “Synthetic Biology: Re-engineering the environment” in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Frontiers publication on “Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern”. This current Frontiers issue was launched in early March 2019 at the Fourth meeting of the Open-ended Committee of Permanent Representatives in Nairobi, Kenya.

Based on how the ability to successfully alter organisms at the genetic level has excited scientists and the general public alike in recent years, the chapter co-led by Bartlomiej discusses synthetic and do-it-yourself biology, and the rapid advancement of gene-editing techniques. However, this ability to create synthetic life and alter existing DNA carries with it the risk of cross contamination and unintended consequences. Hacking the code of life has such major implications that there is an urgent need for governing bodies to collaborate and cooperate in ensuring safe research and development in this field. The rise of the DIY biohacker and the risk of the accidental release of genetically modified organisms into the environment is a cause for regulatory concern. Many of the benefits and challenges of synthetic biology are explored in this fascinating chapter.