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Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal
Relevance of Genetic Resources Governance to Synthetic Biology
Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Stopford Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK
In discussions of how to address synthetic biology within the Convention on Biodiversity, concerns have been expressed that synthetic biology is currently unregulated and that proceeding with work in the area is unethical unless a strict precautionary approach is applied to it. International governance of genetic resources is extensive, and because most of the inputs into and outputs from synthetic biology can be classified as genetic resources, it is clear that this is not an unregulated field. Existing rules may, however, need adaptation or guidance on their interpretation in this context and some additional rules may be needed. This article therefore examines the extent to which existing rules cover concerns associated with synthetic biology as an emerging technology, identifying any gaps and problematic areas. It will focus particularly on two areas: deliberate or unintentional release of synthetic genetic resources into the environment (including coverage of potential misuse), and ownership, access, and benefit sharing. It will argue that in areas that are well covered by existing regulations, proceeding with work in synthetic biology is not unethical, but that there are areas that need further consideration by the international community in relation to both synthetic biology and other novel and/or converging technologies.
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