By Dr. Franziska Oeschger
What are the hopes and fears connected to synthetic biology? Who should decide how this technology will be used? And who will be responsible for the outcome?
From turning waste water into an energy source and eradicating Malaria and Zika to growing food in space – synthetic biology raises high hopes for some young scientists. “For me, synthetic biology is a great tool that enables us to do new things in many different fields” affirms Arnaud Gelb, a biotechnologist at the EPF Lausanne.
Others, however, fear that synthetic biologists focus too much on human needs and largely ignore other aspects, in particular environmental consequences. “Synthetic biology seems to be this wonderful technology […] but where do the risks lie? […] We need more controlled trials to find out what happens when we release this technology into the wild” cautions Tania Jenkins, an ecologist at the University of Lausanne.
While some young scientists see researchers themselves as mainly responsible for assessing the ethical implications of their research, others urge politicians to take responsibility into their hands. “If we put the burden of responsibility on the scientists, we’re not going to end up with true and genuine research” states Akash Arasu, economist and vice-president of the think-tank reatch.
The 7-minute video gives a short introduction to the emerging debate around synthetic biology in Switzerland. It was produced at a round table discussion in February 2016 organized by the Forum for Genetic Research in association with the BIO•FICTION Science, Art & Film Festival and Life Sciences Switzerland (LS2).