Team:Munich/Gold Integrated/Tait

Interview with Prof. Dr. Joyce Tait

What difference can synthetic biology bring to the world? How significant or relevant can it be for future generations?

Prof. Tait: Clearly very significant and relevant for future generations. The answer to this question for Europeans will depend on the EU being very much smarter than it is today in deciding how to regulate the technology.

There are ethical issues for the use of genetically modified organisms irrespective of the severity and area of research. Do you think this should change and if yes how could we overcome the ethical issues better?

Prof. Tait: I don´t think there are any genuinely ethical issues. There are some potential risk issues that we can deal with through effective regulation and there will be some issues related to societal impacts where jobs in one sector will be replaced by jobs in another sector, and possibly another country (best dealt with by effective government policies, not by restricting the use of particular technologies). Regarding how to overcome them, we could start by reducing the disproportionate, undemocratic influence of some advocacy groups on government decision making.

The advances in scientific research has provided the nucleic acid-based point-of-care (POC) detection systems, the ability to detect any mutation in the genome, HIV infection, paternity, etc. Should it be used by individuals in their homes for detecting pathogens or for conducting different biological tests? What would be your personal concerns regarding this?

Prof. Tait: Yes, if these advances are to help to deal with the AMR (antimicrobial resistance) problem they will need to be point-of-care and this could include being used by people in their homes and, particularly important, by farmers in diagnosing disease in their animals. Of course this may need to be backed up by professional verification, but the rapidity of read-out is equally important. Regarding the other issues listed, the urgency is less and so there would be less need for POC testing, but I would not have a problem with it.

Any opinions on the problem of antibiotic resistance and ways to prevent it?

Prof. Tait: This is too big a question to answer here, but rapid diagnostics have to be high on the list.