Nuffield Council on Bioethics Annual Public Lecture

New genetic recipes: are we cooking up trouble with synthetic biology?

Dr Thomas H. Murray
President and CEO, The Hastings Center, US

Wednesday 29 April 2009
6.30-7.30 pm to be followed by a drinks reception
The Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG

Synthetic biology marks the latest stage in our ability to ‘hack the genome’ – that is, to shape organisms according to human intentions with the technological skills amassed since we first began working with recombinant DNA. The fundamental techniques required to practice synthetic biology can be mastered by university students, raising the prospect of ‘garage’ genetic engineers creating all sorts of organisms never before seen on this planet. Synbio exists in several ‘flavours’ and raises a range of ethical and policy challenges. Great advances are promised through synthetic biology from toxin-neutralizing microbes to ultra-efficient production of new drugs and biological therapies. Frequently cited concerns include the possibility of accidentally creating novel, hyper-virulent microbes or launching environmental catastrophes. Another fear is that some malicious party might use synthetic biology to wage bioterrorism. The Hastings Center has embarked on a study that takes these scenarios into account but also focuses on two additional questions: what sense can we make of the concept of non-physical harms such as affronts to nature? And what role should discussions of such non-physical harms play in political discourse and public policy?

This event is free. To book your place contact: Sarah Bougourd
Tel: +44 (0)20 7681 9619
Email: sbougourd@nuffieldbioethics.org

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