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Synthetic Biology for Human Health: Ethical and Legal Issues

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Controversial creation of artificial life

Synthetic biology (SynBio) designs help build new living systems from the molecular to the organism level. The need to explore and analyse the ethical and legal implications is paramount.

Health

Prior to the 'Synthetic biology for human health: Ethical and legal issues' (http://www.sybhel.org. (SYBHEL)) project, no study had focused specifically on the ethical implications of SynBio for human health. A multi-disciplinary team of experts from ethics, philosophy, theology, law, genetics, sociology, biology, biotechnology, and biochemistry have provided the first detailed analysis of the key ethical issues and the important global applications of this exciting but highly controversial field. SynBio aims to re-engineer biological processes to achieve specific targeted outcomes. As medicine aims to repair malfunctions in the body, SynBio can be harnessed to treat diseases such as cancer, antibiotic resistant infections and genetic disorders. This also includes further honing the effectiveness of the beneficial elements of the human body such as beneficial gut bacteria and the immune system. Throughout the three-year term, SYBHEL held conferences and workshops to air and disseminate the immense scope and implications of SynBio. The final conference was held in June 2012 at the British Library in London. The meeting's objective - to discuss and revise the "SYBHEL Report and Policy Recommendations". The report is available online along with other interesting features such as the SYBHEL short story. The project ran a competition and the result is a collection of short-listed stories available as a free kindle e-book. Readers can vote for their favourite. Other ingenious ways of opening up the forum and increasing awareness on SynBio included videos and podcasts of interviews and discussions, blogs, open days, a call for papers, discussions and a brainstorming series. The project's videos feature on the Vimeo channel and YouTube. The examination of ethical, legal and social implications research so far has used a simplistic 'tick box' or check list approach. This reduces the whole issue to a risk assessment exercise of under analysed principles and concepts. SYBHEL recommends moving away from individual biotechnologies, frameworks and subsections. The project has made considerable progress and promoted a more thoughtful, imaginative holistic approach towards potential issues with emerging technologies in the future.

Keywords

Synthetic biology, ethical, legal, disease, genetic, conference, short story, holistic

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