SYNENERGENE is a four-years mobilization and mutual learning action plan (MMLAP) supported by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme. The project aims at initiating and fostering public dialogue on synthetic biology and mutual learning processes among a wide variety of stakeholders from science, industry, civil society, education, art and other fields.
We are proud to present you the first edition of our SYNENERGENE Newsletters. These Newsletters will provide you with information about a wide range of activities undertaken in this four-years project. The project's approach to the concept of Responsible Research & Innovation, its aims and activities is elucidated by project leader Christopher Coenen in the first article. An nice example of SYNENERGENE's activities is the project's cooperation with the international Genetic Engineering Machine Competition (iGEM), where students are engaged in developing scenarios. In this edition you will also find articles on the Bio-Fiction Science Art Film Festival 2014 as an example of what a cultural dimension could add to the discourse on synthetic biology, the artemisinin case that highlights the risk of promises that can backfire, and the model of “trading-zones” that has been developed to discuss and explore possibilities for translating knowledge and uncertainty into responsible decision making and governance processes.
Since we aim to make our project interactive we invite you to subcribe to our open fora if you are interested in a specific topic in the domain of science, civil society,policy or business. You can also send us your comments, views and reflections by submitting a blog to one of these fora.
We hope you enjoy reading,
Eleonore Pauwels & Huib de Vriend (editors)
SYNENERGENE in a nutshell - Interview Christopher Coenen
SYNENERGENE is a citizen dialogue and stakeholder networking project on synthetic biology (SynBio) with 25+ partners, involving stakeholders from science, industry, civil society, policy, art and other areas. It supports a wide variety of mobilisation and mutual learning processes at an early stage of SynBio’s development.
Christopher Coenen, who works at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) within Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, leads the project. He explains the rationale behind SYNENERGENE, its aims and the range of planned activities.
The annual international Genetically Engineered Machines student competition iGEM is a perfect match with SYNENERGENE. SYNENERGENE wants to include a number of iGEM teams in the program activities by offering small grants for scenario development in iGEM projects. For the 2014 iGEM edition 8 promising proposals have been selected. We asked Dirk Stemerding and Virgil Rerimassie, both from the Rathenau Institute and coordinators of this activity, how this approach fits in SYNENERGENE’s goals.
The second BIO·FICTION Science Art Film Festival took place from 23 - 25 October, 2014. The international synthetic biology festival was organised by Vienna-based research and science communication company Biofaction with the support of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria. BIO·FICTION discussed, documented and explored the emerging field of synthetic biology and initiated a public discourse on this current and highly relevant topic. In order to facilitate this creative conversation, the event featured a large variety of content: 32 presentations, panel discussions, 5 do-it-yourself biology demos, 3 art performances, and of course film screenings. The participants came from a wealth of backgrounds, including science and engineering, the social sciences, cultural studies, amateur biology, the military, film making, art and design.
REVIEW: “Synthetic biology’s malaria promises could backfire,”
Claire Marris’ article, “Synthetic biology’s malaria promises could backfire,” posits that synthetic biologists—by using semi-synthetic artemisinin as a prime example of why synthetic biology is important—are repeating history and, in doing so, repeating past mistakes. The mistake at issue first arose with the advent of genetic modification and its role in crop production, as the public realized that scientists would fail to deliver on exaggerated promises made in the late 1990s concerning this new science. Ironically, it appears that while synthetic biologists are keen on remedying the subsequent bad reputation of genetic modification, they are attempting to do so using the exact methods—overstated promises that reach beyond scientists’ expertise or current capabilities—that had led to this bad reputation.
Amyris has developed genetic an industrial synthetic biology platform (genetic engineering technologies) that enables modification of the sugar metabolic pathways in microbes, primarily yeast. This technology enables Amyris to design living factories that convert plant-sourced sugars from crops such as sugarcane or sweet sorghum into target molecules.
The model of “trading-zones” has been developed to discuss and explore possibilities for translating knowledge and uncertainty into responsible decision making and governance processes. It includes a set of methods for collaborations between different “epistemic cultures,” meaning collaborations across disciplines and sectors, with the goal to address the uncertain and complex challenges posed by synthetic biology.
Several events related to synthetic biology and Responsible Research and Innovation are organized between January and June 2015. This newsletter just provides a brief overview. More information about these events is available at the SYNENERGENE website.
Three Scientific Committees of the European Commission have prepared a preliminary opinion on Synthetic Biology with a focus on risk assessment methodologies and safety aspects. Before the opinion is published in its final form, it is subject to a public consultation. All interested parties from the scientific community and stakeholders are asked for feedback on this preliminary opinion. Written comments should be submitted by 03 February 2015 via the online consultation website.
The opinion is the second one on Synthetic Biology prepared by the Scientific Committees. A first one dealt with the definition of Synthetic Biology and was published after public consultation in September 2014.
More information on the consultation and all legal aspects is available at the consultation website.
New Dutch online Knowledge base on synthetic biology
A few days before Christmas 2014 a new Dutch online knowledge base on synthetic biology went online. Kennislink, the organisation responsible for maintaining this database, does not only provide background information on synbio but also encourages visitors to reflect on different potential applications in terms of values by asking questions such as: "Would you buy a pill that would make you smell nicer?", and "Would you like to have light emitting tries along your bicycle track?".
Last week an editorial in the journal Science raised important questions about the safety of synthetic biology. In particular, it asked whether we can ensure safe practices in the more shady research arenas, such as the DIY synthetic biology movements. To discuss the implications, Ian Sample is joined by Nicola Davis, commissioning editor of Observer Tech Monthly, and Professor Paul Freemont from Imperial College, London, who is co-director of its Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation. Dr Filippa Lentzos from King's College London also joins down the line from Switzerland.