Food and Technology Blog

Controversial Extreme Genetic Engineering Project Announced by Exxon, Scientist

Posted Jul. 14, 2010 / Posted by: Nick Berning

For Immediate Release
July 14, 2010
Kim Huynh,, 202-222-0723
Nick Berning,, 202-222-0748
Controversial Extreme Genetic Engineering Project Announced by Exxon and Prominent Scientist
A leading scientist in the controversial field of synthetic biology and oil giant Exxon Mobil announced today that they are opening a greenhouse in San Diego, California, to grow synthetic algae to produce fuel.
The scientist, Craig Venter, and his firm, Synthetic Genomics, plan to work with Exxon Mobil to employ synthetic biology, an extreme form of genetic engineering, in the new greenhouse. In synthetic biology, novel genetic material is designed on computers and then manufactured. This material is then inserted into living organisms to reconfigure them or is used to build completely new species from scratch. Venter and Exxon plan to use this approach to create algae that produce petroleum-like fuel from sunlight and carbon dioxide.
The deal announced today represents one of the largest efforts yet to produce fuel using synthetic biology, and poses substantial environmental and ethical risks, said Eric Hoffman, a genetic technology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
“This announcement shows that Big Oil is deeply involved in the dangerous field of synthetic biology," Hoffman said. "We should heed lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters and stop allowing oil companies that have repeatedly harmed our environment to continue taking excessive risks that endanger the public. But that is exactly what they’re doing by deploying this risky and underregulated technology. Algae form the basis of many food chains. If synthetic algae were to escape, they could out-compete natural forms of algae and disrupt food chains that depend on them, damaging ecosystems and the economy.”

Friends of the Earth has called on the government to put a moratorium on the environmental release and commercial use of synthetic organisms. More information can be found at
Friends of the Earth (web site) and our federation of grassroots groups in 77 countries are a force for the sustainable and fair use of the Earth’s resources. We’re progressives who confront economic factors fueling ecological destruction and injustice and who don’t shy from speaking sometimes uncomfortable truths to power. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.


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