Late September, speakers within synthetic biology were gathered together with key scientists, regulators and NGOs at North-West University in South Africa. The event adressed biosafety and the contribution of synthetic biology in addressing societal challenges. The course was opened by the Ambassador of Norway to South Africa, Ms. Trine Skymoen, and Dean Prof. Kobus Plenaar from the Faculty of Natural Sciences at NWU. Funding for the important event came from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Synthetic biology is a new and emerging field within modern biotechnology that through engineering and de novo synthesis of genetic material aims to improve biological systems for human, agricultural and environmental purposes. The technological advance of SynBio enables easier, faster and potentially more targeted GMO design with the prospective for crop improvements and more efficient biofuel production.
The main objective of this course was to provide high-level policy makers, regulators, scientists, industry representatives and NGOs/civil society from SADEC countries with knowledge and training in crucial gene technology biosafety issues, innovation possibilities and sustainable use of genetic resources with particular attention given to synthetic biology. In order to support governments and authorities and enable them to build up their own system of regulations and management, the course also includeed presentations and discussions on how SynBio processes and products are covered by the international protocols under The Convention on Biological Diversity (i.e. Cartagena Protocol, Nagoya Protocol).
The course was organized by North-West University, GenØk-Centre for Biosafetyand NIBIO (Norway) and is attended by 40 participants from 13 countries in the SADC region. In addition, speakers from South Africa, Malaysia, Brazil and Norway also attended and assisted in the training.
The event was a result of collaboration between NWU and GenØk since 2008. Through this collaboration, bursary support to more than 30 Honours and MSc students, as well as 3 PhD students has resulted in significant local capacity development in the field of biosafety research and risk assessment.