US "artificial life" report to take middle ground
by Michael Cook | Nov 25, 2010 |
tags: artificial life, synthetic life
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will soon finish a report on "synthetic life" commissioned by President Obama earlier this year. The report was prompted by scientific entrepreneur Craig J. Venter's announcement that his team had created an artificial genome. The commission was asked to study the ethical and safety aspects of this development. The report is due on December 15.
The chair, Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, gave The Scientist a preview of the recommendations:
"We're recommending a middle ground between what you might call the proactive view 'let science rip' and the very cautious view, which says don't let science move forward until you have mitigated all the risks. We think that prudent vigilance is the Aristotelian mean between those two extremes and it requires ongoing risk analysis, rather than stop science until you know all the potential risks in the future."
On synthetic biology hype and hysteria:
"We're recommending that an independent organization do for synthetic biology and biotechnology what factcheck.org does for politics, which is to a fact check, be an online resource for the public and journalists that you can check the veracity of certain claims or criticisms of new discoveries. So you might imagine a new online site called biofactcheck.org."
"We're likely to recommend that new organisms when they're created should be marked or branded in some manner to be able to monitor development in synthetic biology. And there are many possible ways of doing this. We were given examples of suicide genes or other types of self-destruction triggers that can be engineered into organisms in order to place a limit on their lifespan."
"The 'do-it-yourselfers' are individuals who work not in institutional settings. Do-it-yourself biology is an important and exciting part of this field and it showcases how science can engage people across our society who don't have university or industrial affiliations. At the same time, the global expansion of do-it-yourself bio raises some concerns about safety and security."
The Scientist, Nov 19