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iGem on Lehrer News Hour; Sloan Foundation Grants to Study SynBio “Societal Issues”

Just found video of the segment on synthetic biology and iGem.

Also, from the website of Medical Technology Business Technology Europe, news that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is launching an initiative to study the societal issues associated with synthetic biology, now that the focus is shifting from merely reading the genetic code to writing it. As part of this initiative, the foundation is giving grants totaling $1.6 million to three organizations — the Hastings Center, the J. Craig Venter Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

From the article:

At the New York-based Hastings Center, Foundation funding will allow for in-depth investigation into ethical issues that may arise in connection with developments in synthetic biology. The project aims to make serious contributions to scholarly literature, produce a base for further scholarship, and inform public policymaking.

The J Craig Venter Institute will examine potential societal concerns associated with developments in synthetic genomics. The project will both inform the scientific community about these issues while also educating the policy and journalistic communities about the science. As a result, scientists, journalists and policymakers will be able to engage in informed discussions.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will analyze evolving public perceptions of potential societal risks that may arise related to research in and applications of synthetic biology, clarify whether our existing regulatory systems can address relevant risks that may be associated with the science, and inform and educate policymakers.”

Appointing the Venter Institute to such a prominent role seems bound to provoke a fair amount of controversy — especially from critics of synthetic biology who will see this as a case of the fox guarding the hen house, and possibly from those in the synthetic biology community who favor more of an open-science model than Venter seems to personify.

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