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Several years ago there was talk of a new technology for food production and processing known as 'synthetic biology'. Also referred to as'syn-bio' or 'GMO 2.0', the loose terms covered everything from bioengineering yeasts to product particular flavorings or vitamin supplements to lab grown meat. Synthetic Biology involves writing new genetic code and biological "circuits" from scratch by printing them out on a DNA printer. In this way scientists can produce synthetic DNA and manipulate it into other organisms to create new living entities never before found in nature.

We don't hear much about synthetic biology at this point, but it's not because it has been abandoned. Syn-bio is completely mainstream at this point, with many of the ingredients found in items on grocery store shelve being synthetically manufactured by DNA printed technology. The thing is, few people have heard about this and, as could be expected, no conversation has happened with the general public about whether anyone wants this.

Join us on this episode of Objective:Health as we talk about the implications of Syn-bio, where it is and where it's headed and whether or not there's cause for concern.

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Running Time: 00:34:52

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Here is the transcript:

Erica: Hello, and welcome to the Objective Health show. I am your host today, Erica. Joining me in the virtual studio are Doug, Elliot, James, and behind the wheels of steel, Damian. Welcome all.


Erica: Glad we can meet here again in this virtual studio. Today, we are going to talk about some stuff from way back, but that may have some current implications. This is the world of synthetic biology, or syn-bio. In the past, we have done a similar show. For those that are listening now, if you would like to go back and check out our show Objective Health number 30: Gene Tech - What the Heck!? That was from 2019.

Now, we are in 2021 and I was just looking around at this. Being in the organic farming world I always come back and check in on where things are going. For those who may not be informed in this area, the whole GMO thing has disappeared, gone, unregulated or untalked about since California's potential proposal for labeling. That never really happened and we saw this stuff just go under the radar.

On this show, other than talking about Covid we look back at things that may pique interest. For those that are unfamiliar with what synthetic biology is, it is a pretty powerful technology. Some refer to it as GMO 2.0 or genetic modification on steroids. There's really no agreed upon definition. It encompasses all this new extreme engineering - what I like to call, and Catherine Austin Fitts calls, "creepy tech".

Basically, we saw GMOs go into the area of genedrives and we have seen this in the last couple of years with a genetically modified mosquito to fight malaria. I think it is interesting to come back to it because when doing research for this show, I couldn't really find anything current. A lot of the articles that we are going to reference today are actually from as far back as 2007.

This was when this type of tech was being invested in and people were going wild about the potentials. What brought it onto my radar was that in this year you women received the Nobel Peace Prize in chemistry for CRISPR/Cas9 technology. I would say CRISPR/Cas9 falls into that syn-bio area. I found it very interesting that it was two women, but you didn't really see it get a lot of press. You would think if two women win this then all of a sudden everyone should be covering it. "Look at all these great things."

That is always a big red flag for me because there is something creepy going on here. What do you guys think? Do you think that it just disappeared? I know Doug and I were talking about it, do you think they just up and decided that tinkering with the genetic code of organisms and humans might not be such a good idea. What do you guys think?

Doug: I don't think that it has disappeared at all. In fact, I think that one of the reasons that it is flying under the radar is because it is so pervasive at this point. It's almost like because it's not novel anymore it's just integrated into everything that we know. You look at all the fake foods that are coming out right now like lab-grown meat, and Impossible Foods.

We were talking before the show about the fact that a lot of the supplements that are on the market are actually examples of some of this synthetic biology where they are tweaked yeast or other microorganisms to produce substances. Some of these are just food flavorings and things like that. I know that with orange flavoring, grapefruit flavoring and vanilla they have found ways to get bacteria to produce these fake substances that have these flavors.

There was a huge scandal back in the 1990's where they were producing tryptophan via these yeast cells, I believe. There was a big scandal because there was a contaminated batch that ended up making people sick. It might have even killed some people. It's so integrated now, it is basically everywhere. You don't really see articles about synthetic biology because it's just the way things are done now, it's everywhere.

James: The way I understand it, it sounds like the difference between genetically modified or genetic engineering and synthetic biology is that genetic engineering is taking an existing species, like corn for instance, and splicing genes in from a different organism - like a bacteria to produce a pesticide that kills pests that would eat it or splicing in a gene that make sit resistant to an herbicide so that you can spray the field down with herbicides and the weeds will die but the crops won't die. Synthetic biology - correct me if I am wrong - is mixing and matching and creating an entirely new organism, a new species of yeast or bacteria.

Taking the example, a new species of yeast that produces the molecule that creates the flavor of vanilla. I could see from the corporate world how this would be seen as a boon because instead of having to grow vanilla beans and extract the vanilla and deal with all of those pesky farmers who want to be paid for their work, they can grow huge vats of this Frankenstein yeast that's created in a lab, feed it sugar. It produces the vanilla flavoring, they can skim it off and bottle it up and send it out to consumers or put it into baked goods.

As far as I can tell, it is being marketed as a natural product, or a sustainable food product because it's produced by living organisms; therefore, they're marketing it as something natural. It seems like a stretch to call that natural. I don't know what you guys think? {laughter}

Erica: Most definitely. For those that may not know, you can actually look at your products because it's actually called vanillin instead of vanilla. If you at least know what you are looking for you can see it. I agree with you, James, very much so.

In one of our articles, Synthetic Biology: The next generation of Genetic Engineering from 2013, they talked about how the syn-bio market was estimated to be worth about $10.8 billion by 2016. Between 2005 and 2010 the US government alone invested $430 million on synthetic biology related research.

Getting to what you were saying, James, they spent zero dollars on environmental risk assessment. In creating these Frankenstein organisms what is the risk on the environment and people? With GMOs that came out in the 1990's, we are about 30 years in and speaking of the roundup-ready corn they found that it could produce those pesticides in your gut. We don't really know because in the US there's no regulation. There's no precautionary principles applied. It's just mad science. Round them up with a lot of money.

Doug: It's crazy. It makes me think of that writer from the Guardian, George Monbiot. He was quoted within the last couple of years and he thinks that farming is essentially going to be a thing of the past and that all of our food is going to be grown in vats or grown in labs. He is talking about it enthusiastically. He's talking about how great it's going to be that we don't have to worry about relying on this dirty farming practice any more. We are going to have these factories pumping out our proteins like lab-grown meat.

It's like something out of the Jetsons. We are all going to have these food pills that replace all our dirty things like having to eat. I don't know, it's a very dystopian future in my eyes. Erica, we were talking before the show about transhumanism and I think it does go along those sorts of lines. I find it disturbing, that's basically my point.

Elliot: Understandably, Doug. Like many of these new innovative "solutions", what they do is the way that they market it and the way that they get it accepted by the public is by capitalizing on their fears and appealing to their emotions, whether that is climate fascism, the Coronavirus nonsense, the lockdowns, the mask wearing, or the stripping away of people's rights. Even when it comes to things like synthetic biology, what they are doing is they are capitalizing on this fear that people have that we are dwindling the earth's resources and that we're contributing to global warming and all of this kind of stuff. "If only we had more of this technology then there would be no more human suffering. We want to get rid of human suffering and we want to feed the planet." As if they can do that already.

Anyone with two firing neurons can see that that would not be a hard thing to do if things were a little bit equal, let's say. Ultimately, they do this with the promise of those lofty goals. That's what is going to get people on board. What potential risks could there be for synthesizing a new organism? {Laughter} On this show, we talk about the potential detrimental health effects of all of these well known man-made chemicals. You have got BPA, you have got phthalates, you have got plastics and all of these toxic things.

What could potentially go wrong when you are synthesizing an organism? You are taking some genetic material from one thing and another genetic material from another thing. You are not engineering something that already exists, you are creating something fundamentally new and novel. You introduce that into the environment? Like these genetically engineered mosquitoes.

But now they are talking about engineering nanobots, creating new species, new organisms and what's going to happen to the local environment when that gets out and starts proliferating and affecting the ecosystem as a whole? It's like the stuff you see in Hollywood movies, the dystopian end-of-the-world movies. When arrogant scientists try to play God the big mistakes happen.

It brings to mind the movie 28-Days Later. I don't know if you guys have seen that? It's a zombie apocalypse movie and it comes about when they're genetically engineering a rage virus. They infect monkeys with it and the monkeys get out and the monkeys infect other people and then the people turn into zombies and end up killing everyone else. That is the end-of-the-world scenario.

It makes you wonder what will happen if they continue playing around with this synthetic biology, synthesizing new biological organisms and trying to play God, is this potentially going to be humanity's downfall at some point? I think it is entirely possible. I wish they would just stop it, personally. {Laughter} I wish they would just put a stop to it. Fix the problems that we already have, don't make new problems. That's what they have the potential to do anyway. That's just my opinion on it.

Erica: I agree, I think that maybe that movie was a little bit of predictive programming, right? Addressing what you were saying, Elliot, the woman that won the Nobel Peace prize, Jennifer A. Doudna, came out a few years ago and said that there was a worry about the potential for unintended consequences of gene editing in people for clinical use. How would you ever do the kinds of experiments that you would want to do and ensure safety? There was also another application of gene editing called "gene drives" that involves moving genetic traits very quickly throughout the population. There has been discussion about this in the media where they use insects like mosquitoes to control disease.
"On the one hand, that sounds like a desirable thing. On the other hand, once again, one has to think about the potential for unintended consequences of releasing a system like that into an environmental setting where you can't predict what might happen." She was the creator of this and she was in numerous articles about CRISPR/Cas9 saying that "it's interesting, but I don't know if it's safe".
They already did let those mosquitoes out, so we'll see.

Doug: One thing that they seem to be really bad at is actually forcing the potential negative consequences for their actions. They seem to be really short sighted, their eye is on the goal and they see nothing else. It's unfortunate because once these things are out of the lab there really is no turning back.

You can't go up and collect all of the genetically modified organisms that have been released since their invention. "Oh! You know what? This is causing a big problem. It is actually causing mutations and all the non-genetically modified stuff is picking up the genetic material from the genetically modified stuff and this is actually really bad. Let's go and collect it and do a do-over." You can't do that. Once it's out there, it's out there. You can't go back.

It seems really unfortunate that either they are ignoring the potential consequences or through their hubris they just don't see it. It's like they can't see any negative consequences of this. It's almost like it is a God-delusion.

Erica: A God complex.

Doug: Yeah. It's almost like this idea that this is human destiny, that that's our function on the planet, to create all these wonderful technologies and that we are going to save everything through our magnificent brains that come up with all these wonderful technological solutions to all our problems. It's a form of blindness, it's just not being able to see the potential, and even likely in some cases, negative consequences.

James: I think we have seen some of that with GMO corn, actually. Erica, you probably know more about this than I do. The spread of GMO corn genes into non-GMO corn has actually allowed Monsanto to go in and test farmer's fields and say "Our corn genes are in your corn and it's patented. You can't grow it and we are suing you, because look, we have evidence that you are stealing our corn technology" when really it's because corn pollen spreads quite widely and it's naturally spreading into farmer's fields and infecting the non-GMO corn genetics with the GMO corn genes from Monsanto's Frankenfoods.

Not only that, but they have also bred a lot of the GMO crops so that the seeds of the first or second generation of the crop are non-viable. The farmers can't save their own seed, they can't replant them because they won't grow. What this means is that the farmers are then locked into buying their seed from Monsanto or whoever the GMO-seed producing company is. It gives them greater and greater control over their market. I'm sure that's the cold lifeless language that they use, not thinking about the fact that this could be incredibly dangerous for the global population.

Erica: Terminator-tech is what it's called.

James: That doesn't sound ominous at all. {Laughter} Who came up with that?

Erica: I am going to put on the tinfoil hat here, maybe that was the intention with the first generation of GMOs? I have been saying this for 20 years. It's about mass contamination. They contaminate the entire food supply and then along come these synthetic-bio companies like Impossible Foods or Memphis Meats. "Don't be problematic with the corn. It's all contaminated because we are just going to create all new food for you."

James: I didn't know that those companies were not only GMO, but synthetic-bio companies. I bet you that a lot of people who are thinking "I'll eat these wonderful Impossible Burgers because they are good for me" don't know that those are GMO foods.

Erica: In doing research for the show, it was hard to find anything from 2018 to the present about the science and where it's going. Even organizations like Food and Water Watch that usually go to the meetings where they're passing these types of regulations, there was nothing.

But I did look at the financial aspect which showed the top-funded synthetic biology start-ups, number two was Impossible Foods with over $500 million in funding. Right below that is Moderna, they sell bio-technology, genetics, healthcare, medical and pharmaceutical with $483 million. Then, down the list: Memphis Meats Food and Beverage Nutrition with $161 million. Now, that's not billions, but still for investors that want to make money these are the kinds of things that people are investing in for future payoffs. It's pretty creepy, it's actually really creepy.

Elliot: In an article titled Not bot, not beast: scientists create first ever living, programmable organism published on phys.org. In that article they talk about the xenobot which is a new lifeform which is neither an animal nor a machine. It is neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal but a new class of artifact, a living, programmable organism.

They talk about how,
"Xenobots are less than 1mm long and made of 500-1000 living cells. They have various simple shapes, including some with squat 'legs. They can propel themselves in linear or circular directions, join together to act collectively, and move small objects. Using their own cellular energy, they can live up to 10 days."
They are talking about what this could be used for and that they may have great value. Xenobots may be able to "clean our polluted oceans by collecting microplastics. Similarly, they may be used to enter confined or dangerous areas to scavenge toxins or radioactive materials." The way that they're painting these kinds of things is as though there is no risk, as though this is something that could be really helpful for humanity.

How did we get up to this point without xenobots? {Laughter} How did human beings evolve without xenobots? Think about what could potentially go wrong. You introduce a xenobot into the ocean and just let it go. What's it going to do? What if it doesn't collect microplastics? What if it becomes incorporated into fish? What if it finds a way to replicate? What if they become incorporated into other living organisms and then they replicate? We don't know what this stuff actually does.

When you are dealing with something so small and seemingly somewhat seemingly intelligent in and of itself then I think you could probably derail an entire ecosystem just by introducing something like that. The thing is, if we think about even just taking one species from somewhere in the world and planting it into an ecosystem in another area of the world, it's enough to destroy that ecosystem, right?

People who have taken tropical predators and they have had those animals as pets and then pets are let out into the wild or they escape and then they end up reproducing or mating with other animals and destroying the entire balance in that system. These are animals that are already adapted to earth. When we are dealing with things that are not adapted to earth and that are novel it just seems like such a risk. Is it really necessary?

It's like the transhumanism agenda. These people who want to implant machines into our brains and connect us with AI. Why is this necessary and who even wants this? I'm sure it's a very small minority of crazy deluded lunatics who are calling for this kind of stuff. I would probably bet my money on the fact that 99% of people are not even all that interested. They don't care about this stuff. It's really the crazy few who are making the decisions who shouldn't be left alone in a science laboratory in my opinion. {Laughter}

James: You don't want to get updates from your smart refrigerator directly into your brain, Elliot? {Laughter}

Elliot: I don't really care how many eggs I need to buy this week, I can work it out. {laughter}

Erica: I think it's anti-human, I really do. I think it's like "we can create better". It's Darwinism on steroids. It's kooky. I do have one last article to share, adding on to what you were talking about, Elliot. This is from the Daily Mail in 2011, and it's called Could hackers develop a 'computer virus' to infect the human mind?.

You're thinking "oh no. Where's she going on this?" Well, they talk about synthetic biology and they talk about the guy that created it, billionaire entrepreneur Craig Venter. I love that they're always entrepreneur billionaires, and philanthropists too.
"Craig Venter only created artificial life for the first time last year" - so 2010 - "and he named it Synthia. This is one of the most powerful technologies in the world, synthetic biology - the writing of life."
He goes on to say,
"I advocate that cells are living computers and DNA is a programmable language."
Just think about that for a moment.
"He predicts a world where we can 'print' DNA, and even 'decode' it. But he warned, in a speech at technology conference TXM, that viruses and bacteria send chemicals into human brains - and could be used to influence, or even 'control' their host. A literal virus injected into a host in the guise of a vaccine, say, could be used to control behaviour."
I'll let you all speculate on that.

Doug: Hmmmmmm.

Erica: Daily Mail.

Doug: In a vaccine, you say?

Erica: Yes. I don't want to sound like a kooky, crazy person, but we know that Bill and Melinda Gates looked into it and invested millions into it. These are just potential scenarios to contemplate. I do not think it's going to save the planet, I really think it has moved beyond food and farming and into the realm of what Elliot was sharing. Leaving these guys alone in a room to create their own children/artificial life is frightening.

Elliot: I think that it seems as though for these guys there is no natural order of things. There is no higher power. I would imagine that they are all diehard atheists. They believe themselves to be Gods. In a way, if we look at the kind of rounded view of what Satanism might be then with these guys there is no God above them, there is no higher power, there is no higher intelligence.

They seek to be that and so it's not a disregard, but like a defiance of creation. That's what it seems like it is. Like putting your fingers up to creation and saying "I can do better than you. In fact, I'm going to do better than you. If it means destroying everything, I don't care." It's almost like a power thing that these guys have going on with them. That's what it seems like.

I don't think that it is going to spell good things if it carries on the way that it is, whether it will get to the point where they do destroy the earth or whether the earth will destroy itself before then. Who knows? Ultimately, it is a very dangerous set of cards that these guys are playing with I think.

Erica: Agreed.

Doug: Psychopathic.

James: When it comes to food, Erica, do you know if the organic food label is still something that people could count on to exclude GMO organisms? It's supposed to, right?

Erica: Yeah.

James: Theoretically, something that is labelled organic -- obviously there is an issue with contamination potentially -- but at least they wouldn't knowingly be using GMO or syn-bio.

Erica: I am not 100% sure. I would have to go back and look, but from following organic standards and how they're constantly being tweaked and changed, especially with synthetic biology, I think that they're included. They are categorized as "generally regarded as safe".

I know that the Organic Consumers Association and non-profits have been trying to spread the word about this, but as we can see with Covid, all of these little grass-roots organizations have pretty much had their legs chopped off. They're not really being heard. It's not really a concern. I would say with synthetic biology, the only way you can tell is like with the vanilla, that it's called vanillin. You wouldn't know that unless you went down this quite scary rabbit hole of these types of things. As Doug was saying in the beginning, I know orange juice and grapefruit juice can be fake bacterial substances. So it's hard to say. I do think the organic industry is compromised but I don't know. I think you are better off just squeezing your own oranges if you've got them. It's not looking good, I'll put it that way, especially with these big biotech companies that have so much money and so much control.

Moderna is one of them. It's like David and Goliath as far as the battle is concerned. The little guy is like "Hey! Watch out! Be careful. Inform yourself." As always, I'm the optimist. I think that we can arm ourselves with knowledge and we can watch with a critical eye. We read all these articles every day anyway and think about these little things like the Moderna stuff. "This is their background, they obviously support CRISPR/Cas9 technology so what does that mean?"

It's not like they're all proprietary secrets. It's not like they are going to come out and say "By the way, we have been tweaking DNA strands." They're not going to be forthcoming, I think. Have you guys got anything else? Any other strategies for not becoming a little nanobot?

James: I like to think that our bodies are capable of healing; we are self-correcting organisms. Going back to what you have all been saying about hubris and the God-complexes that some of these guys have, tinkering with things that they don't really understand, the optimist part of me wants to believe that we are a lot stronger and resilient than we are led to believe. We have survived quite a bit of exposure to this sort of thing already and maybe we are stronger than we think and stronger than they realize.

Doug: Well said.

Erica: I really do think information is knowledge is protection. Just knowing, just being a critical consumer and paying attention to all the small things is very important. If y'all have nothing else to share, that's our show for today. Thank you co-hosts, thank you listeners. Please "like" and subscribe. We hope to come next week with another interesting topic, as of yet we are not sure what that will be but it seems like the world changes daily and we have got to try and keep up. Thank you for joining us and I hope you all have a wonderful day.