Should we let scientists and engineers create artificial life forms to do their bidding? The truth is, biologists have been creating synthetic organisms for research purposes for decades. Want to study a specific protein? First step is to create a bacteria that makes a large quantity of that protein for you.
Why is the UN weighing in on the topic now? Well, what was once limited to small-scale laboratory production has made it a long way from the ivory tower. Companies are synthesizing organisms to create agrofuels or other bio-based materials. Competitions for young people encourage them to create their own designer organisms. Countries differ on how to regulate these new activities and the UN wants to provide guidelines.
Enter Oldham, Hall and Burton. They summarize all of the published work in synthetic biology in their viz giving UN debaters and scientists everywhere an easy way to find trends and identify specific articles.