The project addresses the ethical, legal and social implications of the emerging field of synthetic biology, with a special focus on biosafety and biosecurity and on notions of life. The project starts with discerning relevant ethical issues in close collaboration with the synthetic biology community. Next, the public debates around these issues are analysed. The current ethical and regulative frameworks existing in synthetic biology and closely related fields like nanobiotechnology and genetic engineering will then be reconstructed and assessed for their ability to deal adequately with existing and newly emerging ethical issues in synthetic biology. On that basis, challenges for current regulatory and ethical frameworks will be identified and recommendations for dealing with these challenges will be formulated targeted at three relevant groups: 1) the synthetic biology community, 2) EU policy makers and 3) NGOs/the public.
The project is at the intersection of ethics, technology assessment and foresight, law, and new technologies, and expertise from all relevant fields is included in the project team. The project will build on insights and discussions from other fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. It will also try to assess which aspects of synthetic biology might give rise to ethical problems of a different nature, specific to the field. In turn, it will contribute significantly to a more adequate and proactive broadly applicable approach to the ethical aspects of new technology. It will contribute to a common understanding of synthetic biology and the ethical, legal and social issues involved in EU member states, and to the shaping of a distinct European approach without ignoring the discussions and developments in the US and elsewhere. Stakeholders’ views will be solicited during the project and will be taken into account, and the project will help to prepare for a rational and informed public dialogue on synthetic biology. Finally, the project provides a sound basis for EU policy-making in the coming years, also by cooperation and using synergies with other EU-funded and international projects.