Controversy erupts over genetically engineered algae for biofuels

[USA] Friends of the Earth has criticised the decision to carry out open pond trials of genetically engineered microalgae, as well as the development of genetically engineered (GE) algae for biofuels in general.

Scientists from the University of California at San Diego and Sapphire Energy recently carried out the first Environmental Protection Agency sanctioned outdoor field trial of genetically engineered algae. With the ecological risks posed by large-scale cultivation of GE algae largely unknown, the study was launched to further understand how GE algae perform in outdoor cultivation.

In the abstract to their study, published in the journal Algal Research, the authors write: “We conclude that GE algae can be successfully cultivated outdoors while maintaining GE traits, and that for the specific GE algal strain tested here they did not outcompete or adversely impact native algae populations when grown in water taken from local lakes.

GE algae is believed to offer enormous potential for food and fuel production, with minimal land use. Friends of the Earth however, claim the latest study, as well as the research into genetically modified algae for biofuels in general, are occurring “ahead of adequate regulatory oversight.”

“This study confirmed that genetically engineered microalgae grown in open ponds will escape and spread into the environment. Once this genie is out of the bottle there is no way to put it back,” said Dana Perls, senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth, in a press release.

“Not only is it impossible to contain GE algae in open air production, but there are currently no adequate regulations which fully address its risks to our environment, from lab to final product. Without this essential oversight, there should be no environmental release or commercial uses of GE algae and other synthetic biology organisms.”

 

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