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Harnessing synthetic biology for kelp forest conservation1

Coleman, Melinda A., Goold, Hugh D.
Journal of phycology 2019 v.55 no.4 pp. 745-751
climate change, ecosystems, ethics, forest conservation, genetic variation, macroalgae, synthetic biology
Environmental and climatic change is outpacing the ability of organisms to adapt, at an unprecedented level, resulting in range contractions and global ecosystem shifts to novel states. At the same time, scientific advances continue to accelerate, providing never‐before imagined solutions to current and emerging environmental problems. Synthetic biology, the creation of novel and engineered genetic variation, is perhaps the fastest developing and transformative scientific field. Its application to solve extant and emerging environmental problems is vast, at times controversial, and technological advances have outpaced the social, ethical, and practical considerations of its use. Here, we discuss the potential direct and indirect applications of synthetic biology to kelp forest conservation. Rather than advocate or oppose its use, we identify where and when it may play a role in halting or reversing global kelp loss and discuss challenges and identify pathways of research needed to bridge the gap between technological advances and organismal biology and ecology. There is a pressing need for prompt collaboration and dialogue among synthetic biologists, ecologists, and conservationists to identify opportunities for use and ensure that extant research directions are set on trajectories to allow these currently disparate fields to converge toward practical environmental solutions.