Know your enemy; Improving public awareness of biosciences

Currently, biotechnology in Latin America faces constraints that limit its social acceptance, mainly due to a lack or distortion of available information to decision makers and the general public. Our team was interested in evaluating and determining the perception that undergraduate students have about biotechnology and GMO’s through a survey, and the Honduran regulatory process for approving products derived from genetic engineering. After analyzing the results, we coordinated and conducted education and information activities with children and youth through basic biotechnology practices. Based upon the results, we were inspired to develop an educational model to improve awareness and criteria in Latin America about Synthetic Biology and modified living organisms. Finally, in order to demonstrate that Synthetic Biology can be safely practiced, we conducted a risk analysis of the E. zamofordi organism, created to detect copper residues in water sources, using the Cartagena Protocol and the Environmental Risk Assessment of genetically modified organisms’ guidelines (ERA). There are many approaches to conduct an Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA). One is the "Guidance of Environmental Risk Assessment", developed by the Secretariat of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, as part of the Convention of Biological Diversity. The other approach is an ERA guide developed by a group of 14 Latin American regulators and biotechnologists. Our team has adopted the approach presented in the Latin American ERA guide, as the Honduran legislation regarding GMOs has been developed along the lines of other countries in Latin America such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, which already have experience in the deployment of GMOs. With this science-based approach we proved that our project,"Know your enemy", complies with established biosafety norms, if handled according the relevant regulations. As an alternate product, we propose this tool as a simpler alternative to elaborate consistent risk assessments for Synthetic Biology practices and to comply with national and international biosafety regulations.