Innovation is fast, legislation is slow

What is SynthEthics? SynthEthics is an initiative, founded by students from all over the globe, which aims to prepare the future for biotechnological advancements by asking and answering ethical questions and dilemmas.

We promote biotechnological advancement to the fullest; however, we also recognise that research must follow an ethical framework.

Biotechnology is already renowned for its great achievements and the overcoming of tremendous challenges over the last decades. From engineering microbes to be used in industrial settings to engineering the human genome with biological scissors - the 21st century is going to be the era of biotechnology.

However, with great progress comes great challenges.

These challenges are not only technological but also ethical. What ought we to invent and what ought we to alter?

Biotechnology has proven extremely dangerous when used maliciously and as apparent from the COVID-19 pandemic; the world isn’t ready for biological warfare. However, advancement in biotechnology not only increases the risk for bioterrorism, but also entail more moral pitfalls than we could imagine, and it’s our responsibility to investigate possible moral failure and act accordingly.

Recent development in gene-editing has provided a new stomping ground for biotechnology to roam, resulting in local and global DIY-biohacking communities such as iGEM. Exponential development within the fields has produced new methods of genetically engineering microbes, animals and plants, unlocking the gate for new applications, hitherto unknown organisms, and not to forget, a new field of science - synthetic biology. Innovation is fast, legislation is slow.

With the pressing presence of gargantuan amounts of research waiting at our doorstep, and a frail legislative and ethical framework to curb it, one can only feel like waiting for the dam to burst. Practiced justly, genetic modification may solve many of the current global issues such as environmental deterioration, antibiotic resistance, and lack of global welfare - an opportunity we cannot afford to pass (frankly, one that would be unethical to pass). Practiced maliciously, it may result in the abrupt demise of mankind. Needless to say, discriminating between these two outcomes should be seen as imperative and the time we spend on figuring out the contributing factors to either fallout is indispensable, yet the field isn’t receiving the attention it deserves in the public eye. With SynthEthics, we aim to involve the public in the overcoming of some ethical hurdles we might face in the future. We do so by listening to the opinions of the public and of experts in order to understand the perception of biotechnology. We also dissect opinions and use philosophical tools to figure out where we should point our nose in the bioethical landscape.

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