At the cusp of an explosion of uses and products, how can we harness the benefits of synthetic cells, biosensors, synthetic organisms and more?
What effect will synthetic biology applications have on ethics, geopolitics, science policy and society?
Technological advances in genetic engineering and synthetic biology lead to a fast-growing number of purposes such as biofuels, new drugs, replacement organs, and biological threats. The democratisation of such technologies, coupled with the decreasing cost of DNA synthesis, will allow a broader set of actors to generate new organisms, fuelling the need for addressing individual and societal challenges, while raising concerns about the governance of these technology innovations, capacity-building and benefit sharing. The weaponisation of biology could even lead to high impact biological attacks that would be difficult to defend against. In this context, it is essential that policymakers and regulators explore the social, environmental, economic and geopolitical implications of such technology advances.
“We’ve entered a new phase as a species, developing tools so powerful we could bring about our own extinction and, potentially, destroy the planet – but we’ve survived so far in the atomic era. ”
“New and powerful synthetic biology tools are emerging that can rewire organisms, fight climate change, create new materials, cure human diseases or bring back lost species. ”
“Synthetic biology is an information-based industry similar to how other information-based industries developed over the past half-century. ”
“E. coli bacteria has been around for almost 4 billion years, but scientists recently made it from human-made DNA, opening a door to designer bacteria. ”
“We need to create a space for conversations about science and diplomacy to occur, along the lines of what GESDA is doing, to avoid living in a world of conflicting regulations for new technologies largely based on different approaches taken in China, Europe and the United States. ”
“Fairness and diversity are needed to include the Global South and add legitimacy to the result. ”
“Regulation of synthetic biology involves diplomacy and is a common theme of GESDA’s work: How do governments deal with the rapid pace of technological development? ”
“Pragmatism, rather than optimism or pessimism, is an effective lens for considering humanity’s ceaseless arms race for new technologies, like synthetic biology. ”