From 'Experiments of Concern' to 'Groups of Concern'

Speaker: Dr Emma Frow # The University of Edinburgh

11th Feb 2013

15:00 - 16:30

Seminar Room, Old Surgeons' Hall


Synthetic biology represents a recent and explicit attempt to make biology easier to engineer – and through this to open up the design space of genetic engineering to a wider range of practitioners (including but not limited to engineers). It is still an effort taking place largely within academic laboratory settings; as yet, there are few tangible products or applications to point to as successful exemplars of this approach to engineering biology. But there are transatlantic differences emerging with respect to the governance of synthetic biology in the US and the UK, which I set out to explore and account for in this paper. More concretely, I suggest that understandings of, and approaches to, governing synthetic biology are being framed against different past experiences with recombinant DNA technology. In the US, the governance of synthetic biology is frequently articulated in relation to the early days of recombinant DNA research and the self-governance mechanisms pioneered in response to Asilomar. In the UK, more recent experiences with GM crops provide the dominant narrative against which governance questions are being raised. I suggest that these differing sociotechnical imaginaries in the US and Britain have implications for how new ‘groups of concern’ are being defined in relation to synthetic biology, and how measures to assess and contain the potential risks associated with this technology are being pursued.

Speaker Biography

Emma Frow has a background in neuroscience and biochemistry, and her research focuses on standards development and community-building efforts in the emerging field of synthetic biology. She has recently returned to Edinburgh following a period as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to take up a post as a Lecturer in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies.