A life scientist, an engineer and a social scientist walk into a lab: challenges of dual-use engagement and education in synthetic biology

Brett Edwards, Alexander Kelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The discussion of dual-use education is often predicated on a discrete population of practicing life scientists exhibiting certain deficiencies in awareness or expertise. This has lead to the claim that there is a greater requirement for awareness raising and education amongst this population. However, there is yet to be an inquiry into the impact of the ‘convergent’ nature of emerging techno-sciences upon the prospects of dual-use education. The field of synthetic biology, although often portrayed as homogeneous, is in fact composed of various sub-fields and communities. Its practitioners have diverse academic backgrounds. The research institutions that have fostered its development in the UK often have their own sets of norms and practices in engagement with ethical, legal and social issues associated with scientific knowledge and technologies. The area is also complicated by the emergence of synthetic biologists outside traditional research environments, the so called ‘do-ityourself’ or ‘garage biologists’. This paper untangles some of the complexities in the current state of synthetic biology and addresses the prospects for dual-use education for practitioners. It provides a short overview of the field and discusses identified dual-use issues. There follows a discussion of UK networks in synthetic biology, including their engagement with ethical, legal, social and dual-use issues and limited educational efforts in relation to these. It concludes by outlining options for developing a more systematic dual-use education strategy for synthetic biology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-18
Number of pages14
JournalMedicine, Conflict & Survival
Volume28
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2012

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