In progress from 01-02-2011 to 01-07-2012
Project manager: Dr. Arnold Sauter
The question of whether synthetic biology really constitutes a qualitatively new stage of biotechnology or perhaps rather simply a gradual further development of the previous approaches of genetic engineering—this question has been dis-cussed in research and science for years and different answers have been given. Generally there is a consensus that synthetic biology can make a significant con-tribution to the increase in our knowledge in basic research. Beyond that, it opens—at least theoretically—new paths and possibilities for innovative bio-technological applications as well as for the production of very different products that are currently manufactured in industrial processes in the chemical industry. Great economic potential is assumed to be the result (in the areas of biofuels, biomaterials, biosensors, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and vaccinations).
Read more on the project homepage
Since the term “synthetic biology” was introduced, there has been discussion of the risks it possibly poses and its ethical and social consequences. A specific con-cern is over the possible intentional misuse in the context of (bio-)terrorism. Fears are also directed at the undesired risks to our health and the environment that the use of synthetic organisms or molecules might pose. With regard to the further governance of synthetic biology, a topic that is being discussed interna-tionally in view of the field’s early level of development is whether “soft” regula-tory models, such as a code of conduct for research institutions and companies, are sufficient, and for which applications “hard” legal rules are necessary, what shape they could take, and how they could be established.
In the context of the dynamic development of synthetic biology and the begin-ning public debate, TAB was commissioned to provide the German Federal Par-liament with information that can serve as a foundation for a forward-looking policy making. The TA project is supposed to concern itself in particular with — in addition to the scientific-technological aspects — issues of ethics, safety and security, intellectual property rights, regulation (or governance), public percep-tion, and adequate and early communication about chances and risks.