This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer
‘Synthetic Biology: challenges and opportunities for the UK‘ took place on Wednesday, across two sites in London and Bristol. My esteemed Royal Society of Chemistry colleague James Hutchinson described our attempt to video link between two sites as a fitting level of ambition, considered in the context of the challenges we face if we are going to use synthetic biology to tackle the ‘grand challenges’ (primarily in food and fuel). You can see how it looked from my perspective here. (In the picture from left to right are: Professor Robert Edwards; Helena Paul; Daisy Ginsberg; Dr Lionel Clarke; Professor Dek Woolfson (in Bristol) and our London Chair, Dr Ehsan Masood.)
There is a lot of buzz around synthetic biology at the moment – there was even before senior government ministers started mentioning it in speeches at the Royal Society – but we are not anywhere near where we would need the technology to be for it to assure us of its widespread application yet. Indeed, as could be expected, we heard on Wednesday that before we can consider what we can do, we need to consider what we should do. Dr Clarke assured us that that was part of the point of setting out a Roadmap for the development of the technology so early (you can read David Willetts’ response to this from November 2 here). It is probably worth noting that the final report of the BIS Foresight project Global Food and Farming Futures (2011) did not give much reference at all to synthetic biology, except in the context of precaution around public opinion.
In this context, I recommend watching the debate back (it starts at 3:12). Apologies for a couple of sound issues around the mid-point.