Crowdfunding Site 'Kickstarter' Rakes in Profits From Irresponsible Synthetic Biology Campaign

The ETG Group has launched a ‘KickStopper’ campaign to directly challenge the ‘Glowing Plants’ Kickstarter project which is attempting to make and distribute glowing genetically modified plants using synthetic biology.

| June 06, 2013

  • If Kickstarter funds the 'Glowing Plants' project then the Kickstarter biohackers will be mailing out more than 600,000 seeds to 6,000 random locations across the U.S. To this date there has never been an intentional environmental release of an organism produced through synthetic biology.
    Photo by Fotolia/Mopic

A press release from ETC Group

The popular crowdfunding site is prepared to hand hundreds of thousands of dollars to a controversial project for the widespread  and unregulated  distribution of over half a million extreme-bioengineered seeds .  Kickstarter, which as a company stands to make more than $22,000 from the project, has steadfastly refused to comment on its listing of a project to make and distribute ‘glowing genetically modified plants’ using Synthetic Biology. As the funding deadline approaches, public opposition to the ‘Kickstarter Biohackers’ is growing. On the morning of June 6, civil society organisation ETC Group, who this week launched a ‘KickStopper’ campaign to directly challenge the project,  will submit a petition calling on  Kickstarter to update their ethical guidelines to exclude funding of bioengineered organisms. Those guidelines currently forbid Kickstarter from funding such comparatively benign projects  as energy drinks and sunglasses. ETC Group contends that the funding of this project could open the floodgates to copycat biohacking projects. The petition through has gathered more than 7,000 signatures in 7 days and signatures continue to pour in.

“Kickstarter could still do the right thing and refuse to fund this risky release” explains ETC Group’s Jim Thomas “Kickstarter has less than a day to decide what matters most: Does it go after the money it is going to rake in from this and future biohacking projects or does it prioritize protecting our environment as well as its reputation as an ethical social enterprise”

At the heart of the controversy is the extreme genetic engineering technology of Synthetic Biology which uses artificial DNA to “re-programme” life- forms. According to its founders, the ‘Glowing Plants’ project, which is associated with Synthetic Biology startup Genome Compiler Corporation, was primarily listed on Kickstarter as a means of raising awareness and support for this new technology. However the project also promised to mail up to 100 synthetically engineered seeds to anyone who donated at least $40. If  Kickstarter funds the project then the Kickstarter biohackers will be mailing out more than 600,000 seeds to 6,000 random locations across the USA.  This flies in the face of the established norms on synthetic biology governance and the serious concerns of thousands of citizens and organizations. To this date there has never been an intentional environmental release of an organism produced through synthetic biology and bodies including the United Nations Biodiversity Convention, the US Presidents Bioethical advisors and the insurance Industry have cautioned against environmental release at this time.  Compounding the controversy, the Kickstarter biohackers have openly said they intend to use a genetic engineering technique called the “gene gun” method that is not covered by existing regulations thereby, intentionally allowing their project to escape oversight, assessment or monitoring.

A public dialogue? Only if it’s real and genuine.

As criticism of the project has grown the Kickstarter biohackers claimed that they now plan to “conduct a public dialogue on the project’s ethical, legal and environmental issues before shipping any seeds.” While ETC Group welcome this proposal such a dialogue is meaningless unless the following basic conditions are met:

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