Why All the Fuss About Public Engagement in Synthetic Biology? Custom course for the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre

Workshop Poster – Britt Wray Mar16[3]

Societal issues in synthetic biology: why all the fuss about public engagement?

Synthetic biologists are increasingly encouraged by funders and employers to engage
with publics, in open and dynamic fora, about the implications of their research as well
as participate in interdisciplinary collaborations. As a group, synthetic biologists are
also generally marked by an awareness of the potential controversial issues that their
research introduces in the minds of others.

This course will enable synthetic biologists to gain a broad understanding of the
history of public engagement in the biotechnosciences, as well as how current
activities and benefits of synthetic biology research can be opened up and shared with
publics. Importantly, this course is not an exploration of how researchers, practitioners
and advocates may wish to attempt to sell the science of synthetic biology to publics.
On the contrary, it is a critical investigation of the myriad ways that synthetic biology is
being connected to the external (non-synbio exclusive) world through collaborative
work involving artists, designers, biohackers, social scientists, ethicists,
anthropologists, and other concerned citizens. It will explore a wide range of
philosophical, ethical, communication, interdisciplinary, and societal issues in synthetic
biology that are bound up in the types of public engagement and collaborative works
that are examined. Examples of such issues include: public health and environmental
risk, biosecurity and biohacking, future promises and expectations, synthetic biology’s
democratizing potential and its role in forging new global inequalities.
Researchers on the course will gain an understanding of key theories and methods
used in a wide variety of science communication, bioart, and speculative design
projects that deal with synthetic biology and are intended to ignite thoughtful exchange
and debate.