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Posted: March 19, 2008

Spotting the next GM-like controversy before it happens

(Nanowerk News) Environmental scientists and policy makers have drawn up a list of the 25 new and most pressing issues likely to affect biodiversity in the UK between now and 2050. As well as highlighting areas where research effort should be focused, the exercise shows how "horizon scanning" could help us foresee issues that have taken scientists and policy makers by surprise in the past, such as the UK public's response to genetically modified crops.
The list, published online this week in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology, includes issues such as artificial life and biomimetic robots; nanotechnology; the impact of geo-engineering the planet to mitigate climate change; and the effect of rising demand for biofuels. The list is the outcome of an innovative two-day meeting held in Cambridge involving 35 representatives from government, environmental NGOs and academia. It builds on a hugely successful exercise conducted in 2006 to identify the 100 ecological questions policy makers most wanted answered.
According to the lead author, Professor Bill Sutherland of the University of Cambridge: "Horizon scanning is more and more common in government and business, but we should also be using it to help prioritise scientific research. We hope that horizon scanning will help cut down the number of times that policy dealing with foreseeable issues needs to made in the absence of the appropriate research".
William J Sutherland et al (2008). Future novel threats and opportunities facing UK biodiversity identified by horizon scanning, Journal of Applied Ecology, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01474.x is published online on 20 March 2008.
Source: Wiley-Blackwell