Human Practices Overview
Emerging synthetic biology technologies present novel ethical questions about both human and environmental safety. Furthermore, synthetic biology faces significant scientific, regulatory, and economic barriers to its development. These challenges are global, and they develop in the context of many different communities with different goals and concerns around the world. In order to improve both the current state and the future outlook of the field of synthetic biology, we sought to undertake Human Practices initiatives that bridge the gaps between international communities, and raise general awareness and consensus about the issues at stake in the field.
Our Human Practices initiatives this year span both the public engagement and the integrated human practices categories. On the public engagement side, we volunteered at the first annual HackLife Biohackathon competition at Harvard, where we gave a presentation on bioethics to the hackathon attendees. We also operated a help table where we counseled participants on the environmental and societal impacts of their proposed technologies.
On the Integrated Human Practices side, we organized a collaborative survey to assess international expert opinions on biologically manufactured substances (biomanufacturing). The future of biomanufacturing will require cooperation from academia, industry, and government, so together with teams from Europe and South America, we created a set of questions targeted to academics, industrial professionals, government regulators, and politicians as well as the general public in order to assess people’s awareness and outlook on biomanufacturing. We gathered the responses, and we observed interesting trends that help substantiate our work.
The results of the survey confirmed one of our underlying hypotheses for our project: biomanufacturing technology needs to be much cheaper and more efficient before it can truly take off as an alternative to traditional chemical manufacturing techniques.