Novel constitutions? New regimes of openness in synthetic biology
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- Hilgartner, S. BioSocieties (2012) 7: 188. doi:10.1057/biosoc.2012.5
Synthetic biology is typically described as an arena in which new kinds of biological entities are being created via novel ‘engineering-based’ means of tinkering with life and its component parts. This research domain is also an arena of social experimentation, in that some advocates of synthetic biology are actively promoting new property regimes aimed at establishing various forms of ‘open biology’. This article considers how these emerging visions of open biology are implicated in the construction of political subjects and the relations among them. The article contrasts two policy discourses for understanding intellectual property: the traditional innovation perspective and the less well-institutionalized but clearly emerging politics-of-technology perspective. These discourses serve as heuristic devices that offer different perspectives from which to view emerging property regimes in the synthetic biology arena. As a concrete example of an open biology regime, the article then turns to the BioBricks initiative and examines the regime being imagined and constituted in its vision of open synthetic biology. In this way, the article explores the question of whether and in what ways the open source regimes currently being proposed actually address increasingly pressing questions about how property rights in emerging technology impinge on democratic decision making.