Category Archives: Hilary Sutcliffe

Deja vu and synthetic biology – will we learn the lessons of nanotech and genetic modification?

A guest blog by Hilary Sutcliffe, Director of MATTER, a UK think tank which explores how new technologies can work for us all.

The other day, I wrote a piece on the implications of synthetic biology where I  suggested that we “need to place discussions on a science basis, and not get over-distracted by ethical hand-wringing.”  It was a bit of a provocative statement – intentionally so – so I was pleased to see Hilary Sutcliffe pick up on it in the comments and push back against the implication that the ethics of synbio might not be as important as some think.  Given the relevance of her comments, I thought they deserved their own guest blog – so here they are – AM.

“Ethical hand-wringing”?  Hmm, I don’t think you were quite meaning this as I have interpreted it Andrew, but I have to disagree with your point in your Synthetic Biology Blog on the ethical hand-wringing, I think we should be distracting ourselves quite a lot with Ethical Hand-Wringing while the scientists are getting on with creating their new organisms, especially considering ‘what we understand is secondary to what we can do’, as you said.

I was at the Royal Society’s Synthetic Biology Stakeholder meeting which was shown by BBC Newsnight last week, (my Mum and I spotted me fleetingly in the corner!) and this and other recent synbio events gave me many a déjà vu moment – had I accidentally gone to a nano meeting?

There are many similarities between the development of genetic modification (GM) and nanotechnologies which can be learned in the development of synthetic biology.  Time is of the essence – GM and nano were pretty much already in the shops when we started to take action, but here perhaps we can get our act together a bit sooner.

Here are quick observations on my déjà vu moments and lessons from nano and GM that may apply.  This is not an exhaustive list, just my quick on-the-hoof thoughts in response to the limited information I have: Continue reading Deja vu and synthetic biology – will we learn the lessons of nanotech and genetic modification?