Synthetic Biology and Society

What important ethical, social, legal, environmental, or other issues/questions do you think need to be addressed in the field of synthetic biology? What would you add to the lists below? Please be as specific as possible.

Legal and Economic Questions:

- Anticipatory/adaptive governance and/or regulation - how to govern a fast-moving technology whose future directions, risks and impacts cannot be predicted in advance - How should social, ethical, and religious concerns be incorporated into governance or regulatory structures? - What should government involvement look like? Who should make decisions about what research directions to pursue? How should the DIY bio community be monitored/regulated? - How do we assess and frame progress (with metrics) in overcoming issues?


Intellectual Property Issues:

- Are there IP-related issues peculiar to synthetic biology and can (or should) the current patent system be altered to address them? How should the current IP system be changed? - What IP regimes for new “disruptive” technologies have worked “best” (in terms of technology dissemination, economic return, fairness) in the past and can we learn from them for synthetic biology? - Is “open source” biology a better business model than alternatives involving more restriction? - Does the current IP regime affect synthetic biology research in a way that promotes innovation or constrains it? - How can the apparent historical conflicts between life scientists’ approach to IP and ownership and engineers’ approach to IP and ownership be resolved to the benefit of society?


Public Policy-related Questions:

- Should the products/outcomes of synthetic biology be tagged or labeled so as to clearly identify their method of manufacture? How important is this for public acceptance? - For potential synthetic biology applications that are intended to have an enduring effect (e.g., changing human microbiome, an environmental application, production of synbiofuel) instead of a short-term applications (flu vaccine, etc.) - how might one ensure the intended effects are achieved and unintended consequences are benign (or limited) in changing systems (aging humans, ecosystems etc.)? - How best can we educate decision-makers (policy-makers, Congress, judges) about synthetic biology and more generally the culture of science? What do they need to know and who should influence the development of this “curriculum”? - Can we come up with a clearer definition (of synthetic biology?)


Public Engagement and Communication-related Questions:

- How can the case for synthetic biology ELSI be forcefully, convincingly, persuasively stated - why it matters, why it is important? - What are creative mechanisms for engaging both the “public” and the social and ethical synthetic biology communities in dialogue about opportunities/needs/values? - How can the risk assessment process better engage the publics’ differing view/values concerning risk? Can we foster an interdisciplinary “deep dive” on ethical and conceptual assumptions/foundations of risk estimation and evaluations? - With regard to synthetic biology communications what should be communicated to whom (and why) and who decides?



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