Quick, tell your friends! Synthetic biology is awesome!
The success of the synthetic biology revolution depends on creating a positive image of the industry in the eyes of the public, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Of primary concern is the intense public backlash against GMOs and GMFs, seen throughout North America, Europe, and Japan. A similar public reaction to synthetic biology could undermine an industry with world-changing potential.
While legal and financial stumbling blocks still exist, the biggest potential showstopper to the synthetic biology revolution is a conservative public uneducated about the potential benefits of the industry.
Jim Philp is a biologist and lead author of the book Emerging Policy Issues in Synthetic Biology. He is also a policy analyst for OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology, and Industry, the lead sponsor of the publication. It discusses the scope of synthetic biology as it relates to fuel, medicine, food and the environment, and potential roadblocks such as cost and various legal issues. More importantly, Philp argues that the public must be immediately and intensely engaged in the debate over the future of synthetic biology. “You can’t just say you have developed a new technology and tell people to go away and use the products it has helped create,” says Philp.
Governments are key to facilitating this debate. Discussions between policymakers, scientists, and the public should be held in open environments to reduce the intimidation factor of the new industry. Young people are also a key demographic that must be engaged, as they will be the ones to eventually mature this new industry. Social media must be employed, and competitions such as the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition can help spur an interest in this industry among the next generation of scientists.
Philp’s report highlights the effectiveness of the United Kingdom’s policy of public engagement in synthetic biology. It has even created a “roadmap” in 2012 for how the industry in the UK should look by 2030.
The bioeconomy will affect every person in the world, from the food they eat to the materials and medicines they use. While legal and financial stumbling blocks still exist, the biggest potential showstopper is a conservative public uneducated about the potential benefits of the industry.
So spread the word! Synthetic biology is here to stay! Help us change the world, and make the future awesome!