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Synthetic biology: Too early for assessments? A review of synthetic biology assessments in Germany

: Doren, Davy van; Heyen, Nils B.

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Science and public policy 41 (2014), No.3, pp.272-282
ISSN: 0036-8245
ISSN: 0302-3427
European Commission EC
FP7-SIS; 288981; EST-FRAME
Journal Article, Electronic Publication
Fraunhofer ISI ()
synthetic biology; assessment; participation; uncertainty; governance; Germany

Synthetic biology is an emerging interdisciplinary domain that focuses on the design of biological parts and systems. Despite its envisaged contribution to tackling various global challenges, there is uncertainty regarding potential impacts, benefits and risks of synthetic biology. Assessments can facilitate policy-making and technology governance as a means to both addressing and potentially decreasing uncertainty. In this respect, public engagement has been recommended to improve the societal accountability of techno-scientific development, as well as been criticised for potentially restricting innovative behaviour. Germany faces a challenging conflict: there is considerable potential to develop synthetic biology but public opinion is generally critical towards genetic modification. This paper reviews the nature and purpose of synthetic biology assessments in Germany and analyses their role in the policy-making processes. Overall, the current state of assessments seems to be characterised by a rather early stage of development and a lack of participatory approaches.