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Synthetic Biology Survey Requires Industry Response

March 27, 2012
The Woodrow Wilson Synthetic Biology Project has released a public survey soliciting opinions on synthetic biology. It is a follow up to a recent paper on synthetic biology released in Nature, and it is filled with biased questions that revive some of the oldest misconceptions about the biotechnology industry. The results of the survey are expected to be released in May 2012.

BIO is encouraging members of the industry to participate in the survey and use the opportunity to address some of the biases and misconceptions.

Some of the loaded questions survey takers are asked to rate the relative importance of include:

  • Ensure that the negative consequences of synthetic biology applications with long-term effects, such as changing the human microbiome or the production of synbio-based fuel, are benign (or limited).

  • Ban certain applications that pose a significant threat (deadly viruses, re-engineered human stem cells).

  • Tag or label products to indicate that synthetic biology was used in their manufacture

  • Identify intellectual property-related (IP) issues specific to synthetic biology and consider changes to the current patent and copyright systems.

  • Engage communities most likely to be disproportionately affected by increased use of the synthetic biology.

Among these questions, ironically, is an admission that there currently is no widely agreed upon definition of “synthetic biotechnology”:

  • Develop a clear definition of what synthetic biology is, including how it differs from past and ongoing genetic engineering.

As members of the biotechnology industry, this survey presents an opportunity to get engaged and help fight misconceptions that have existed since the start of the biotech industry. Broad industry participation in filling out this survey and encouraging others to do so can help ensure the results, which will be released in May, will present a balanced view of synthetic biology and the biotechnology industry. We would hope the results rank developing a clear definition of synthetic biology as a higher priority than banning or labeling it.

You can also vote against a moratorium on synthetic biology in this poll in a Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News article that looks at how fear has influenced public perception of most novel scientific endeavors like synthetic biology.