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15 Macquarie L.J. 45 (2015)
Synthetic Biology: Ethics, Exeptionalism and Expectations

handle is hein.journals/macq15 and id is 55 raw text is: 





                               SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY:
             ETHICS, EXCEPTIONALISM AND EXPECTATIONS


                                  AINSLEYJ NEWSON*



      Synthetic biology gives rise to ethical implications. These are already well
      recognised, with an ever-increasing academic and lay literature and growing
      attention from policy-makers. What is less clear is whether analysis of ethics in
      synthetic biology should be 'exceptional' That is, is there anything about
      synthetic biology that justifies a distinctive 'ethics of'approach ? Likewise, w hat
      may or may not be fruitful directions for useful bioethical inquiry in synthetic
      biology remains under-explored. This paper first synthesises ethical issues
      arising in synthetic biology. A claim is then advanced that while a purely
      exceptionalist approach to ethics and synthetic biology is unwarranted, the field
      nevertheless requires engagement with ethics. Initial suggestions are put
      forward as to how this might be achieved. The paper then determines several
      hitherto under-explored lines of enquiry which serve to both further useful
      discussions of synthetic biology and contribute to the wider project of ethical
      engagement in emerging technologies.


                                  I      INTRODUCTION

Synthetic biology involves the deliberate application of engineering principles to well-
defined molecular components to synthesise novel or augment existing biological entities.1
One aim of this research area is to extend previously limited biological functionalities, or
create entirely new ones, in a standardised, defined, and reproducible way. Synthetic biology
has become possible due to rapid advances in technologies such as DNA synthesis and
engineering.2 While its practical applications remain putative, its theoretical utility is almost
limitless. This combination of research approaches, and its broad array of uses in medicine
and the environment, makes synthetic biology a potentially disruptive technology.3

This paper will address three interlinked topics. First, the ethical issues that arise, or are
likely to arise, in synthetic biology research and its applications are synthesised. As Link has
pointed out, these may not be 'debates' as such - discussions regarding ethical issues in the
development and application of synthetic biology have been directed more towards


* BSc(Hons); LLB(Hons); PhD; Senior Lecturer in Bioethics, Centre for Values, Ethics &Law in Medicine
   (VELiM), School of Public Health, University of Sydney. Parts of this paper draw on research undertaken as
   part of the SYBHEL project Synthetic Biology for Human Health: Ethical and Legal Issues (SiS-2008-1.1.2.1-
   230401), funded by the European Commission. The author thanks all collaborators in this project, in
   particular Professor Ruud ter Meulen, AM Calladine and Dr Anna Deplazes-Zemp.
1 There is no single definition of synthetic biology that is adopted by all who identify as researchers in this field.
   The description offered in this paragraph is the author's own, based on eight years working in the field.
   However, a range of definitions of synthetic biology are used in practice. See, eg, News Feature, 'What's in a
   Name?' (2009) 27 Nature Biotechnology 1071, 1071-3; Alexander Kelle, 'Synthetic Biology as a Field of Dual-
   Use Bioethical Concern'in Brian Rappert and Michael J Selgelid (eds), On the Dual Uses of Science and Ethics
   (Australian National University ePress, 2013) 45, 46-49. Other papers in this special issue of the Macquarie
   Law Journal (MqLJ) also define synthetic biology.
2 Jing Liang, Yunzi Luo and Huimin Zhao, 'Synthetic Biology: Putting Synthesis into Biology' (2011) 3 Wiley
   Interdisciplinary Reviews: Systems Biology and Medicine 7, 8- 10.
3 James Manyika et al, 'Disruptive Technologies: Advances That Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global
   Economy' (Report, McKinsey Global Institute, May 2013) 4.

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