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synthetic biology

Synthetic biology has been hailed as a revolution in biotechnology, enabling bold new possibilities in areas such as energy production, medicines, and other applications.

But, is it really revolutionary, or just a new tool? With our current knowledge of the structure and function of proteins, the ability for de novo engineering is relatively limited. The near-term use of synthetic biology appears to be as a more-extreme version of gene splicing rather than the design of entirely new organisms, enyzmes, and biochemical pathways.

The good news is that synthetic biology is already paying dividends. For an overview of cases of successful implementation, see BIO’s report: Synthetic Biology and Everyday Products.

The Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, where I am on the board of directors, is hosting an Emerging Technologies Roundtable:

August 13, 2010 – “Synthetic Biology: What’s the Agenda?”

Synthetic biology has hit the headlines yet again. The J. Craig Venter Institute’s recent dramatic announcement led to a replay of President Clinton’s urgent request of his bioethics commission to produce a quick report on cloning back in 1997. The new Presidential Commission on Bioethical Issues duly spent its first meeting, and no doubt will spend others, fulfilling President Obama’s request for a report within 6 months.

The application of engineering principles to organic life is both new and not-so-new. At the Bioethics Commission meeting, one expert claimed that the only fresh ethical issue raised by the Venter article was its use of the word “create” in its title, since he had adapted, not created. But the stream of bioscience heavyweights who are engaging in federally-supported research in this field underscore its significance for the future. The fact that they are some of the loudest voices calling for attention to its potential downside gives us perspective. “It’s scary as hell,” Stanford’s Drew Endy was quoted as saying in the Sept. 2009 New Yorker. “It’s the coolest platform science has ever produced, but the questions it raises are the hardest to answer.”

So what’s the agenda? C-PET’s Project on Biotechnology is convening an initial Roundtable to focus our thinking. This will be the first of three; subsequent Roundtables will focus on ethics implications (reviewing the work of the President’s bioethics commission), and on security implications.

Synthetic Biology: What’s the Agenda?

at the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies
10 G Street NE, Suite 710
11:45AM – 1:30PM (Lunch provided, please RSVP)*

*C-PET events are audio- and video-taped and may be webcast; this may include audience video and still shots.

Register for this event

Speakers include:

J. Craig Venter
J. Craig Venter Institute (invited)

Brent Erickson
Executive VP, Biotechnology Industry Organization

Rina Singh
Director, Biotechnology Industry Organization

Jonathan Moreno
University of Pennsylvania and Center for American Progress

Jonathan Tucker
Monterey Institute of International Studies

Moderator: Nigel M. Cameron
President and CEO, Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies (C-PET)