chapter  6
6 Pages

The Ethics of Synthetic Biology: Guiding Principles for Emerging Technologies

WithAmy Gutmann

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its first report, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies, on December 16, 2010. 1 President Barack Obama had requested this report following the announcement last year that the J. Craig Venter Institute had created the world’s first self-replicating bacterial cell with a completely synthetic genome. The Venter group’s announcement marked a significant scientific milestone in synthetic biology, an emerging field of research that aims to combine the knowledge and methods of biology, engineering, and related disciplines in the design of chemically synthesized DNA to create organisms with novel or enhanced characteristics or traits. Intense media coverage followed. Within hours, proponents and critics made striking claims about the discovery—ranging from “Frankencell” to the idea of humans “creating life”—often invoking the kind of eye-catching terms that heighten interest, and anxiety, about risks and benefits.