The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues last month released a report on the emerging field of synthetic biology. The commission issued 18 recommendations including a call for coordinated federal oversight of scientists working in both large institutions and smaller settings. However, it also stated that no new regulations were needed.
The panel, comprising 13 scientists, ethicists, and public policy experts, said that the very newness of the science, which involves the design and construction of laboratory-made biological parts, gives regulators, ethicists, and others time to identify any problems early on and craft solutions that can harness the technology for the public good. The commission concluded that while the technical challenges of synthetic biology remain daunting, the field is likely to become more decentralized as the relevant tools become increasingly available and affordable—a change that may pose novel challenges with regard to oversight.
During this week’s podcast Dr. Drew Endy, one of the leading researchers exploring the world of synthetic biology, offers his point of view on the commission’s report. He explores some of the major recommendations put forth by the panel and gives us his thoughts on so called “do it yourselfers” and others performing synthetic biology research outside of the standard university setting. Dr. Endy also discusses what he sees as the major impact of the commission’s report on the synthetic biology community.
Drew Endy is an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. He earned a BS and MS in civil and environmental engineering, respectively, from Lehigh University and a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering from Dartmouth College.
Dr. Endy joined the Stanford faculty in late 2008, having previously studied with and served on the biological engineering faculty at MIT. At Stanford he led the development of BIOE44, a new sophomore laboratory course in synthetic biology, and also BIOE244, a new upper level course on advanced genetic engineering. He also serves on the Building 4 Faculty Planning Committee and recently joined the Bioengineering Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.
Dr. Endy is also the founding director of the public benefit BIOFAB facility in Emeryville, CA, which is developing "expression operating systems" enabling organismal engineering at the genome scale. He is the founding president of the public benefit BioBricks Foundation, which develops and supports legal frameworks and open technical standards that enable genetic engineering. Furthermore, Dr. Endy is a member of the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law at the U.S. National Academies and recently gave testimony and provided opening remarks regarding synthetic biology before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the President's Commission on Bioethics, respectively.