, Volume 2, Issue 1-2, pp 1-6,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 09 Jul 2008

Diffusion of synthetic biology: a challenge to biosafety

Abstract

One of the main aims of synthetic biology is to make biology easier to engineer. Major efforts in synthetic biology are made to develop a toolbox to design biological systems without having to go through a massive research and technology process. With this “de-skilling” agenda, synthetic biology might finally unleash the full potential of biotechnology and spark a wave of innovation, as more and more people have the necessary skills to engineer biology. But this ultimate domestication of biology could easily lead to unprecedented safety challenges that need to be addressed: more and more people outside the traditional biotechnology community will create self-replicating machines (life) for civil and defence applications, “biohackers” will engineer new life forms at their kitchen table; and illicit substances will be produced synthetically and much cheaper. Such a scenario is a messy and dangerous one, and we need to think about appropriate safety standards now.