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The emerging field of synthetic biology will allow researchers to create biological systems that do not occur naturally as well as to re-engineer existing biological systems to perform novel and beneficial tasks. Synthetic biology promises significant advances in areas such as biofuels, specialty chemicals, agriculture, and medicine but also poses potential risks. As the science and its applications develop, a comprehensive approach to addressing ethical and social issues of emerging technologies as a whole is called for if scarce intellectual resources are to be used optimally, according to a new report authored by Erik Parens, Josephine Johnston, and Jacob Moses of The Hastings Center.
In Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology: An Overview of the Debates, the authors examine how the ethical issues raised by a variety of emerging technologies are often similar and familiar. They find that these similarities are abundant enough to justify an effort to develop an ethical framework that cuts across emerging and converging technologies. Indeed, rather than stovepiping ethical questions into the hyphenated areas of bio-ethics, nano-ethics, neuro-ethics and so on, it is time to begin speaking about the ethics of emerging technologies as a whole.
On June 24, Erik Parens will discuss the report's findings, exploring the differences between physical and non-physical harms and pro-actionary and pre-cautionary frameworks, in an effort to better define the ethical issues around synthetic biology. Gregory Kaebnick, also of The Hastings Center, will describe the Center's new, multi-year project that will examine the ethical issues raised in the report in greater depth.
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Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology
Wednesday, June 24, 2009, 12:30-1:30 PM (light lunch available at 12 noon)
Erik Parens, Senior Research Scholar, The Hastings Center
Gregory Kaebnick, Research Scholar, The Hastings Center
David Rejeski, Moderator, Director, Synthetic Biology Project
5th Floor Conference Room, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
About Synthetic Biology Project
The Synthetic Biology Project was established as an initiative of the Foresight & Governance Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The Project aims to foster informed public and policy discourse concerning the advancement of synthetic biology – an emerging interdisciplinary field that uses advanced science and engineering to make or re-design living organisms, such as bacteria, so they can carry out specific functions. Synthetic biology involves making new genetic code, also known as DNA, which does not already exist in nature.
The Synthetic Biology Project provides independent, rigorous analysis that can inform critical decisions affecting the research, commercialization and use of synthetic biology. Its objective is to help ensure that, as synthetic biology moves forward, possible risks are minimized and benefits maximized.
In collaboration with researchers, governments, industries, non-governmental organizations, policymakers and others, the Project will work to identify gaps in our knowledge of the potential risks of synthetic biology, explore public perceptions towards the field, and examine governance options that will both ensure public safety and facilitate innovation.
All research results, reports, and the outcomes of our meetings and programs will be made broadly available through publications and over the World Wide Web. We include a wide variety of stakeholders, both domestic and international, in our work.
For more information, please click here
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