Background

Synthetic biology is an emerging scientific field that makes it easier for scientists to design and build de novo organisms. Crucial to its realization as an economic sector is the development of standardized and interchangeable biological units known as bio-bricks. Synthetic biology will have crucial applications in such areas as energy security, environmental clean-up, and human health. Synthetic biology also raises significant governance issues with respect to public mistrust of science, its potential use in new forms of biological terrorism, and the risk of environmental contamination by novel and self-replicating organisms that escape the laboratory. In its fourth report to the Government, the Navigator Network identified synthetic biology as one of the major areas that will have a significant impact on 21st century society. The Sustainability Council of New Zealand assets that synthetic biology requires analysis outside the frame of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) and that Aotearoa "needs to take an active part in shaping the global framework that governs this technology."

Objective

This research project focuses on three areas:
• Institutionalization of synthetic biology. What is the depth of synthetic biology research in Aotearoa? How does synthetic biology research fit within existing scientific investment priorities and mechanisms for encouraging innovation? How does synthetic biology relate to existing HSNO regulation of biosafety and biosecurity?

• Commercialisation of synthetic biology. Does synthetic biology raise new issues with respect to intellectual property rights? Are guidelines being developed for the ownership of complex biological models?

• Socio-political dimensions. What new social, political and ethical issues does synthetic biology raise? How is this science and its implications being communicated—and deliberated—across multiple stakeholder groups and the broader New Zealand society?

Methods

The analytical strategy includes document analysis, structured expert interviews, and discourse analysis of how synthetic biology is framed in the mainstream press and by stakeholder groups.

Results

This is a work in-progress.

Conclusions

The interlocking complexities of synthetic biology make it an ideal case within which to analyse the development of regulatory frameworks for 21st century science, technology and innovation. This project will inform the New Zealand debate on effective governance of synthetic biology, and in broader context contribute to the theory and practice of science communication and science and technology policy.

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 [PCST]
PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Bio-bricks or bio-conflicts
Building public trust in governance of synthetic biology

Amy Fletcher   University of Canterbury

Background

Synthetic biology is an emerging scientific field that makes it easier for scientists to design and build de novo organisms. Crucial to its realization as an economic sector is the development of standardized and interchangeable biological units known as bio-bricks. Synthetic biology will have crucial applications in such areas as energy security, environmental clean-up, and human health. Synthetic biology also raises significant governance issues with respect to public mistrust of science, its potential use in new forms of biological terrorism, and the risk of environmental contamination by novel and self-replicating organisms that escape the laboratory. In its fourth report to the Government, the Navigator Network identified synthetic biology as one of the major areas that will have a significant impact on 21st century society. The Sustainability Council of New Zealand assets that synthetic biology requires analysis outside the frame of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) and that Aotearoa "needs to take an active part in shaping the global framework that governs this technology."

Objective

This research project focuses on three areas:
• Institutionalization of synthetic biology. What is the depth of synthetic biology research in Aotearoa? How does synthetic biology research fit within existing scientific investment priorities and mechanisms for encouraging innovation? How does synthetic biology relate to existing HSNO regulation of biosafety and biosecurity?

• Commercialisation of synthetic biology. Does synthetic biology raise new issues with respect to intellectual property rights? Are guidelines being developed for the ownership of complex biological models?

• Socio-political dimensions. What new social, political and ethical issues does synthetic biology raise? How is this science and its implications being communicated—and deliberated—across multiple stakeholder groups and the broader New Zealand society?

Methods

The analytical strategy includes document analysis, structured expert interviews, and discourse analysis of how synthetic biology is framed in the mainstream press and by stakeholder groups.

Results

This is a work in-progress.

Conclusions

The interlocking complexities of synthetic biology make it an ideal case within which to analyse the development of regulatory frameworks for 21st century science, technology and innovation. This project will inform the New Zealand debate on effective governance of synthetic biology, and in broader context contribute to the theory and practice of science communication and science and technology policy.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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