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Synthetic Biology

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Synthetic biology aims to bring biology within the domain of engineering. Scientists may have talked about “genetic engineering” in the past, say synthetic biologists, but only metaphorically. In reality, their work was hit-or-miss and never more than one-off. With synthetic biology, however, scientists can produce standardized and modularized biological systems that can be combined in sequences and installed in “platform” organisms with predictable and well-characterized effects. They will do what we want, when we want, in the way we want. Cells can be like machines or factories, and they can be designed like them. And then the design of organisms will not just be an esoteric science, but an engineering discipline. 


From the Hastings Center


Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology

Toward Clearer Understanding and Better Policy Principal Investigators Gregory Kaebnick, Thomas H. Murray, and Erik Parens Funder

Bioethics Briefing Book

Synthetic Biology

By Michele S. Garfinkel, Drew Endy, Gerald L. Epstein, and Robert M. Friedman


Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology Explored at Center Meeting

Pairing genetic technology with computing and engineering techniques in what is known as synthetic biology makes it easier for researchers as well as biohackers to create and control genetic recipes. More effective medicines, intelligent tumor-seeking bacteria, and cheap bio-fuels are some of the hoped-for ap


Washington Briefings on Choice in Health Care and Synthetic Biology Feature Hastings Center Scholars

Hastings Center co-founder and President Emeritus Daniel Callahan was featured at a media briefing on consumer choice in health care sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  The briefing, which took place at the National Press Club in Washington on June 25, featured

Bioethics Forum

Taking Control of Biology

Gregory E. Kaebnick


PRESS RELEASE: New Science Commentary: Synthetic Biology Raises Important—yet Familiar—Ethical Issues

Hastings Center scholars warn against fragmenting bioethics into “subfields” that squander scarce resources September 11, 2008 (Garrison, NY) There is a critical need to examine the ethical implications of the new field of synthetic biology, but in an essay in the September 12 issue of Science, Hastings


Synthetic Biology Meeting at Hastings Center; International Experts Explore Ethical and Policy Issues

Ethical and Policy Issues of the Emerging Field Explored Imagine biological systems being manipulated to function like computers or factories so that they can generate lifesaving medical therapies or cheap biofuels—or weapons of terror. The prospects and perils of


Thomas Murray Delivers AAAS-Hitachi Lecture on Synthetic Biology (Video)

Synthetic Biology: What is it? What Challenges Does It Pose for Policy?
Thomas H. Murray Delivers the 2010 AAAS-Hitachi Lecture on Science and Society

Gregory Kaebnick Leads a Bioethics Seminar on Synthetic Life – Is It a New Industrial Revolution?

Synthetic Life: The New Industrial Revolution?
Gregory Kaebnick leads a bioethics seminar on synthetic biology. What Is It? Where Might It Lead? What Ethical Questions Does It Raise?

James King Synthetic Biology

Design and Synthetic Biology
Speculative designer James King presents work that visually imagines possible social and aesthetic effects of emerging technologies.

Gregory Kaebnick Testifies to the House Committee on Ethics & Synthetic Biology

Thomas Murray Addresses the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issue. New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies. (Washington DC, 2010) 

 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Synthetic Biology Project (Washington, DC) 

Gregory E. Kaebnick, “Is the ‘Synthetic Cell’ about Life?,” The Scientist 24, no.7 (2010): 27 

Gregory E. Kaebnick, “Synthetic Biology, Analytical Ethics,” The Hastings Center Report 40, no. 4 (2010) 

 Erik Parens, “Making Cells Like Computers,” Boston Globe, February 18, 2008 

ETC Group, Extreme Genetic Engineering: An Introduction to Synthetic Biology (Ottawa, ON: ETC Group, 2007) 

Michele Garfinkel, Drew Endy, Gerald L. Epstein, and Robert M. Friedman, Synthetic Genomics: Options for Governance (Rockville, M.D.: J. Craig Venter Institute, 2007) 

Denise Caruso, Synthetic Biology: An Overview and Recommendations for Anticipating and Addressing Emerging Risks (Washington DC, Center for American Progress, 2008)