Presidential Bioethics Commission will delve into synthetic biology issues

Amy Gutmann

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, chaired by Penn President Amy Gutmann, will hold its first public meeting in Washington, D.C., on July 8 and 9.

The 13-member commission was asked by President Barack Obama to focus on recent scientific breakthroughs in the field of synthetic biology after scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute announced in May that they had created the world’s first synthetic genome in a bacterial cell.

Venter, one of the leading genomic research scientists of the 21st century, and other leading experts in bioengineering, biotechnology, ethics and public policy are scheduled to address the Commission during its two-day session. Open to the public, the meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on July 8 at The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C., located at 1150 22nd St., NW. The agenda also includes an afternoon plenary session and roundtable discussion moderated by Gutmann. The meeting will be live-streamed and archived on the Commission website.

Established through Executive Order by President Obama, the Commission is comprised of accomplished professionals in medicine, law, philosophy, science, ethics, public policy, theology and security. Its members were appointed by the president.

Gutmann is chair of the group and James W. Wagner, president of Emory University, is the vice chair. Penn is also represented on the Commission by Anita L. Allen, the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at Penn Law School, who also is a Senior Fellow in the Bioethics Department at Penn Medicine. Bios of all the Commission members can be found at

The Commission will work towards the goal of identifying and promoting policies and practices that ensure scientific research, healthcare delivery and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner. President Obama has asked the Commission to issue a report to the White House regarding synthetic biology within six months. To see the Commission’s agenda and learn more about its work, visit

As Penn’s president, Gutmann has been a forceful advocate for access to higher education, for dismantling the boundaries among academic disciplines and for increasing student and faculty engagement with communities both domestically and across the globe.

Originally published on July 1, 2010