Proactive and Adaptive Governance of Emerging Risks: The Case of DNA Synthesis and Synthetic Biology

June 22, 2012

Kenneth A. Oye
International Risk Governance Council, June 2012

Like conventional biological engineering, synthetic biology rests on revolutionary advances in DNA sequencing and synthesis technologies. Unlike most recombinant DNA work, synthetic biology seeks to do biological engineering with standardized biological parts, modularized design, and routinized methods of assembly. By emphasizing standardization and modularity, synthetic biologists seek to cut costs by permitting outsourcing, to reduce barriers to entry in advanced biological engineering by reducing requisite skill levels, and to extend the range of useful applications of biological engineering. This paper describes the emergence of security risks associated with DNA synthesis and synthetic biology and evaluates the international conventions, national guidelines, transnational protocols and voluntary actions that have evolved to govern those risks. It then extracts some more general lessons for governance of emerging risks from experience to date in this domain.

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