This research theme is an evolving one: to develop and deepen critical understanding about the environmental and social impacts of emerging technologies within the bio-economy.

Considerable efforts have been made over the past 20 years to increase understanding about the wider social and environmental impacts of modern biotechnology, but this is often highly specialised, not well integrated with other disciplines, and insufficiently matched by scholarly enquiry tailored to the unique conditions of developing countries, and South Africa in particular. Moreover, decades of life sciences research have led to new technological innovations such as plastics produced from renewable biomass, tailored food products, new biofuels, and products derived from synthetic biology, all of which have poorly understood environmental and social implications.

Although South Africa has yet to become a major player in the emerging fields of synthetic biology (the direct engineering of microbes and plants), proteomics (the large-scale study and manipulation of proteins in an organism) and biofuel production, important lessons are emerging that require national scrutiny and debate. This component of the research provides the space for this analysis, building on previous research investigating wider environmental and social issues associated with the introduction of genetically modified crops in South Africa, and setting forth a more comprehensive research agenda in anticipation of a growth in the bio-economy and associated technological innovations.

Current research projects

Jen Whittingham: GMO assessment and the ethics of care

Completed research projects


Hellen Mahlase: Impacts of GM crops on smallholder farmers in South Africa


Taryn de Beer: Labelling of genetically modified food in South Africa


Tobias Nasterlack: First-generation bioethanol production in South Africa – how relevant are global biofuel concerns?