Synthetic biologists: We're not irresponsible

An M.I.T. biological engineering professor rejects the ETC Group's critique

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 18, 2007 4:08PM (EST)

Drew Endy is an assistant professor of biological engineering at M.I.T. who was extensively quoted in the ETC Group report "Extreme Genetic Engineering: An Introduction to Synthetic Biology" that I summarized yesterday. This morning, Endy posted a reponse to the report in the comments section of How the World Works that deserves its own prominent placement (and clickable links). I'll see if I can get ETC to respond in turn.

As one of the researchers quoted in the ETC report I wanted to directly respond to a principal claim of the report, that synthetic biology research is running forward w/o forethought or societal debate. This claim is impressively inaccurate, the field of synthetic biology is one of the most open, outgoing, and self-critical fields of research that's ever existed. Even so, there is a need for still more constructive discussion and debate. There are real issues that need to be worked through. In support of actual discussion here are links to long existing resources that the ETC group choose not to include in their report (even after spending an afternoon visiting my lab).

1. (open community forum)

2. Synthetic Society: (open community wiki on issues of ethics, security, ownership, and whatever else)

3. Synthetic Biology videos: (videos from the first SB conference in 2004. See videos 8-10 for early discussions of societal issues)

4. Videos from the second SB conference in 2006. See David Baltimore's second lecture and the third day discussions.

5. SB2 Declaration (Draft declaration from SB2.0 that was open for public comment for several weeks. ETC group did not provide any comments.)

6. Public soap box discussion on synthetic biology held at MIT Museum.

7. Slides from workshop in support of updating the Biological & Toxins Weapon Convention.

And so on. If you have the time and energy it would be hugely valued if you can help us to actually work through societal issues embedded in and surrounding the engineering of biology. We can't afford to not get things right. Thanks!

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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