Synthetic Future: Can We Create What We Want Out of Synthetic Biology?

Editors: Gregory E. Kaebnick, Michael K. Gusmano, and Thomas H. Murray

How should we think about synthetic biology—about the potential benefits and risks of these applications as well as the very idea of designed, extensively genetically modi­fied organisms?
Because synthetic biology is an emerging technology, the lead article in this special report engages in “upstream bioethics”: it considers whether or how we should move forward with this technology before its applications are already well established, so that, as a society, we can stop, slow down, or change direction before it’s too late—steer clear of mistakes rather than try to correct them or make up for them later. Nine commentaries round out the discussion, sometimes expanding on and sometimes arguing with the views developed in the lead article. This special report is available for free.

Table of Contents


How Can We Best Think about an Emerging Technology?

Gregory E. Kaebnick, Michael K. Gusmano, and Thomas H. Murray


The Ethical Issues of Synthetic Biology: Next Steps and Prior Questions

Gregory E. Kaebnick, Michael K. Gusmano, and Thomas H. Murray


The Precautionary Attitude: Asking Preliminary Questions

Jonathan Wolff

Policy-Making and Systemic Complexity

Mark A. Bedau

Governing in the Context of Uncertainty

Jane Calvert

The Existing Guidance for “Dual-Use” Research

Gigi Kwik Gronvall

Biological Engineering, Risk, and Uncertainty

David Relman

Nature Natured and Nature Denatured

Gaymon Bennett

Public Engagement and the Importance of Content, Purpose, and Timing

Colleen M. Grogan

Beware Bubbles and Echo Chambers

Jim Thomas

Context, Existing Frameworks, and Practicality: Moving Forward with Synthetic Biology

Sarah Carter

The Hastings Center has never shied away from the toughest ethical challenges faced by society.



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