June
07
 

Synthetic biology could lead to disaster, says Oxford bioethicist

Julian Savulescu, of Oxford's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, has issued a dramatic warning about the dangers of synthetic biology. He believe that it easily could be used to synthesise lethal new organisms which could kill vast numbers or to create radically new life forms which could wreak havoc on ecosystems and human health. Writing in Times Higher Education, he painted a bleak picture of reckless, unregulated progress: 

"Given the potential impact of a catastrophe, there is an absolute moral imperative to review our regulatory structures, international oversight, rules for publication, access to reagents and technology, and so on. Responsible scientists should lead this.

"In the meantime, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US National Science Foundation, BP and the US Department of Energy have pumped upwards of $500 million (£315 million) into synthetic biology. In the UK, the figure is estimated at £65 million over five years. Technology marches on.

"The presidential commission felt that in 2010, the field was "too novel" to produce specific governance. Will any review conducted by government produce useful controls over what is now an industry with a market value of $1.6 billion (expected to be worth $10.8 billion in 2016)? The past two years have seen synthetic biology evolve from a novelty news item to a major research priority, and as such the window for effective governance may have passed.

"The biological revolution is at once exciting, even mesmerising, but terrifying. The genie is out of the bottle. Our challenge is to ethically master the machines we are creating. At present, they are relatively simple and benign. But synthetic biology offers the prospect of annihilating life as we know it."



This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

comments powered by Disqus
 

 Search BioEdge

 Subscribe to BioEdge newsletter
rss Subscribe to BioEdge RSS feed


 Recent Posts
Should governments overrule parents who oppose transgender puberty-blockers? Yes, says bioethicist
24 Feb 2019
Young blood is probably snake oil, says FDA
24 Feb 2019
Leading Irish hospital makes willingness to do abortions a condition of employment
24 Feb 2019
Wife who travelled with husband to Dignitas will not be disinherited
24 Feb 2019
Should fat stigma be banned?
24 Feb 2019

Home | About Us | Contact Us | rss RSS | Archive | Bookmark and Share | michael@bioedge.org

BioEdge - New Media Foundation Ltd © 2004 - 2009 All rights reserved -- Powered by Encyclomedia