Biosafety and the Environmental Uses of Micro-Organisms

Conference Proceedings

image of Biosafety and the Environmental Uses of Micro-Organisms

Micro-organisms play a fundamental role in the environment. Yet their role is the result of complex biogeochemical processes by consortia of micro-organisms and the function of individual species is not clear in many cases.

This publication provides an overview of the current situation and relevant developments in environmental microbiology, as well as its potential application, which covers: use of micro-organisms for agriculture, production purposes, bioremediation, and cleaning purpose; environmental applications of microbial symbionts of insects; and environmental risk/safety assessment of the deliberate release of engineered micro-organisms.




Reflection on environmental risk assessment of micro-organisms

Due to the inter-dependent network of organisms, a microbe’s interaction with the physical environment and its continuous evolution through mutation and horizontal gene transfer, microbial diversity is never static, which makes an analytical approach almost impossible for assessing the risk of the environmental use of microbes. One possible alternative approach could build on concepts developed by the OECD in the early 1990s: familiarity and substantial equivalence. According to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, “the objective of a risk assessment is to identify and evaluate the potential adverse effects of living modified organisms on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the likely potential receiving environment, taking also into account risks to human health”. The “potential adverse effects” are not always easy to identify and interpreting them in different circumstances has been a long-standing question. Ambiguity surrounding this key word appears to have caused regulatory uncertainty. This chapter addresses the target of risk assessment of environmental application of microbes and the difficulty of using an analytical approach in assessing the risk of micro-organisms used in the environment.


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