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Synthetic biologyOpportunities and challenges in the emerging field of synthetic biology

Under the auspices of the OECD, the US National Academies of Science and the Royal Society, an international symposium entitled “Opportunities and Challenges in the Emerging Field of Synthetic Biology” was held in Washington, DC, in July 2009.

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Synthetic biology is: (1) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and (2) the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes.This emerging field is expected to impact many areas of the economy, particularly the chemical and energy sectors, as well as to provide tools of great social and environmental interest. However, achieving the rewards offered by synthetic biology will require, inter alia, addressing a range of social, economic, ethical, and legal issues as well as overcoming scientific and technical challenges.

This symposium brought together the different communities – scientific, engineering, policy, public, legal – involved in synthetic biology and explored the opportunities and challenges posed by this emerging field. The symposium was organised around expert presentations and discussions on a wide range of subjects: the state of the field and its commercial and scientific potential; the scientific, educational and commercial infrastructure needs; emerging financial and business models for its commercial development; the challenges synthetic biology may raise to legal and regulatory arrangements (biosafety, biosecurity, intellectual property rights); and the ethical dimensions of this new field.

The symposium aimed to contribute to fostering the safe and efficient development of synthetic biology by identifying issues and areas for future study and informing policy-makers.