The Ethics of Synthetic Biology: Outlining the Agenda

  • Anna DeplazesEmail author
  • Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra
  • Nikola Biller-Andorno


The projects and aims of synthetic biology raise various ethical questions, challenging some of our basic moral concepts. This chapter addresses these issues in three steps. First, we present an overview of different types of ethical issues related to synthetic biology by assigning them to three main categories: method-related, application-related, and distribution-related issues. The first category concerns the procedure and aims of synthetic biology, the second deals with certain planned applications of synthetic biology and the third with questions of distribution and access to procedures and products of this technology. Next, we address a statement often raised in the discussion about ethics of synthetic biology, namely that the ethical issues of synthetic biology have been discussed in previous debates and therefore do not need to be addressed again. We argue that past debates do not render the discussion of ethical issues superfluous because synthetic biology sets these issues in a new context and because the discussion of such issues fulfills in itself an important function, namely by stimulating thought about our relationship to technology and nature. Furthermore, given that synthetic biology’s aims go beyond those of previous technologies, we suggest that it does in fact raise novel ethical issues. Finally, we present opinions of European synthetic biologists on ethical issues in their field. At such an early stage of technological development, synthetic biologists play an important role in the assessment of their discipline, and are best placed to estimate the scientific potential of the field. In an attempt to capture the intuitions of the European synthetic biology community, we have carried out interviews, the results of which we briefly summarize in this last section. By presenting an overview of the various ethical issues and their actual and perceived importance, this chapter aims at providing a first outline for the agenda for an ethics of synthetic biology.


Ethical Issue Moral Judgment Synthetic Biology Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Ethical Question 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Deplazes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra
    • 2
  • Nikola Biller-Andorno
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.University Research Priority Programme (URPP) in Ethics, University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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