Ethical, Legal & Societal Issues (ELSI)

Synthetic Biology Dialogue Report

To address public opinion the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) initiated a project to develop a dialogue with the public regarding their concerns and aspirations for this emerging field. These institutions invest over a billion pounds of public money annually in the engineering, physical and biosciences with a clear strategic focus on improving the quality of life in the UK.

The report presents the findings of a series of public workshops and stakeholder interviews on the science and issues surrounding synthetic biology. The Project took place during 2009-2010 and was carried out by the TNS-BMRB, BBSRC, EPSRC with the support of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Sciencewise programme.


The findings of the report

The findings of the Synthetic Biology Dialogue Report were published on 14 June 2010.

The public can see the enormous potential of science but are concerned about the speed of progress, regulation and the risks of synthetic biology to health and the environment.

Research Councils will have to consider both technical and ethical issues connected to research and reflect on the motivation and leadership within the scientific community.

Although International co-ordination of regulation was raised, in the context of technical advances in a global economy the challenges faced will make this difficult to implement. More information is available here.

A Synthetic Biology Overview Report was published in February 2011, which gives a summary of the key findings.


Principle for the oversight of synthetic biology

A more recent report, Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology, outlines principles to safeguard public health and the environment from the novel risks of synthetic biology and to ensure open, meaningful and full public participation in decisions regarding its uses:

  1. Employ the Precautionary Principle

  2. Require mandatory synthetic biology-specific regulations

  3. Protect public health and worker safety

  4. Protect the environment

  5. Guarantee the right-to-know and democratic participation

  6. Require corporate accountability and manufacturer liability

  7. Protect economic and environmental justice