Synthetic biology is a series of scientific and technological practices involved in the application of engineering principles to the design and production of predictable and robust biological systems. While policy discussions abound in this area, emerging technologies like synthetic biology present considerable challenges in the articulation of concrete policy options given that their introduction into society may still be in the distant future. This paper reports on a series of governance workshops that focused on synthetic biology’s ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) as they pertain to human health, and discusses particular limitations of the ELSI approach that we encountered in our work. In an attempt to avoid policymaking for potential implications of uncertain future applications we instead conclude by proposing tangible forms of anticipatory governance that may be more adequate in addressing the more immediate concerns raised by synthetic biology.
- Synthetic biology; ELSI; Governmental regulation; Anticipatory governance; Responsible research and innovation