Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is the development of well-characterised biological components with the objective of constructing and redesigning natural biological systems. The possible uses and benefits of synthetic biology are many and include the development of new pharmaceuticals, the generation of energy for a post-petroleum economy or also environmental remediation. Potential risks arising include unintended harmful consequences for human health or the environment, ethical issues surrounding “playing” with nature, and intellectual property issues.

Synthetic biology is also another example of an enabling technology for which existing governance structures and processes are ill-suited and the variety of regulatory regimes in the world does not facilitate the task of scientists and industry alike. Genetically modified crops and organisms, applications of methods to drive selected genes into a population (as deriving for example from CRISPR/cas9 applications), are expected to generate benefits for society as a whole. However there are ambiguities and controversies associated with the technologies and no clear governance regimes, negotiated between affected stakeholders and regulators.

2009-2010: IRGC organised an expert dialogue to design an overview of synthetic biology governance (link)

2012: Proactive and adaptive governance of emerging risks, the case of DNA synthesis and synthetic biology (Kenneth A. Oye, Political Science and Engineering Systems Division, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

2017: IRGC is interested in the governance of gene editing and applications. See: Oye et al. “regulating gene drives” and MIT PoET: regulate gene editing in wild animals.