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Responsible Innovation in Synthetic Biology: Public Reflections
Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash
Tuesday 8 August 2023
Professor Catherine Waldby and Dr. Henry Dixson recently presented the findings of their project "Responsible Innovation in Synthetic Biology: Public Reflections" at this year’s AusSTS conference in Sydney. Their project is part of the multi-year CSIRO-ANU Responsible Innovation Collaboration. The rest of the team include Professor Sujatha Raman from CPAS, Professor Adrian Mackenzie from the School of Sociology, and Dr. Lucy Carter from CSIRO. They conducted public focus group discussions around Australia on an emerging discipline that applies engineering tools to biology. AusSTS 2023 provided an opportunity for lively discussions about the narratives of breakthrough technologies with academics in Science & Technology Studies.
Prof. Waldby and Dr. Dixson also shared the team's research findings at the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). This meeting engaged with experts from the public sector including regulatory scientists, policy experts, researchers, and representatives from a range of organizations: Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment & Water (DCCEEW), the Gene Technology Ethics & Consultative Committee (GTECCC), the Gene Technology Policy & Governance Section (Department of Health), and other OGTR staff. During the meeting, they discussed the tension between risk-aversion and driving innovation to address major challenges. They also discussed the public's enthusiasm for healthcare innovations while recognizing concerns about transparency when it comes to the uncertainties of genetic technology. The project highlights nuances in Australian views towards synthetic biology, including a desire for practical solutions and well-developed safeguards alongside more fundamental concerns about the trajectory of society, technology, and our shifting relationship with nature.