Synthetic Biology — Do We Need New Regulatory Systems?

Co-director, Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation, Imperial College London, United Kingdom


Synthetic biology (SB) is a new interdisciplinary field that aims to establish a systematic framework for the engineering of biological systems and cells to both address fundamental questions and provide new applications. The potential economic promise of SB is such that numerous countries are developing strategies for establishing SB in both academia and industry. Part of these strategies is the early inclusion of social scientists and policy makers, although there remains uncertainty as to how rapidly the field will develop and to what scale. Given that chromosome synthesis and assembly are now technically feasible, are new national and international regulatory and governance structures required? Can current and future SB research be accommodated within existing genetic modification (GM) regulatory systems and is self-regulation a suitable modus operandi for SB?