Integrating ethical analysis “Into the DNA” of synthetic biology
Current ethical analysis tends to evaluate synthetic biology at an overview level. Synthetic biology, however, is an umbrella term that covers a variety of areas of research. These areas contain, in turn, a hierarchy of different research fields. This abstraction hierarchy—the term is borrowed from engineering—permits synthetic biologists to specialise to a very high degree. Though synthetic biology per se may create profound ethical challenges, much of the day-to-day research does not. Yet seemingly innocuous research could lead to ethically problematic results. For example, Dolly the sheep resulted from a long series of research steps, none of which presented any ethical problems. The atomic bomb was developed as a result of Einstein’s uncontentions theoretical research that proved the equivalence of matter and energy. Therefore it would seem wise for ethicists to evaluate synbio research across its subfields and through its abstraction hierarchies, comparing and inter-relating the various areas of research. In addition, it would be useful if journals that publish synbio papers require an ethical statement from authors, as standard practice, so as to encourage scientists to constantly engage with ethical issues in their work. Also, this would allow an ethical snapshot of the state of the research at any given time to exist, allowing for accurate evaluation by scientists and ethicists, regulators and policymakers.
KeywordsSynthetic biology ethics Policy Law Methodology Biosafety Bioterror
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