Gutmann Authors Piece on Synthetic Biology Report

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Media Contact:Laura Cavender | cavender@upenn.edu | 215-746-6411August 3, 2011

PHILADELPHIA – A strategy of “prudent vigilance” is the best approach for the federal government to adopt toward synthetic biology, according to Amy Gutmann and other members of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, including Anita Allen of the Penn Law School.

Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, chairs the Commission and discusses the issue in the latest issue of the Hastings Center Report.

President Obama requested a report from the panel on the issue after last year’s creation of the first self-replicating cell with a synthetic genome. The Commission submitted its report to the White House in December.

“The commission had a unique opportunity to contribute proactively to a field of scientific inquiry that is relatively young,” Gutmann writes in “The Ethics of Synthetic Biology: Guiding Principles for Emerging Technologies.”  

“While the synthetic genome is a significant technical achievement, synthetic biology as a field is still in its early stages. Its most promising potential benefits and most worrisome risks are not yet upon us, allowing time for efforts to publicly consider and recommend safe development of this field for the good of all,” she writes.

The Commission decided that no new regulations or oversight bodies are now needed but that “responsible stewardship requires that existing federal agencies conduct an ongoing and coordinated review of the field’s risks, benefits and moral objections as it matures.” 

The Hastings Center Report also contains articles on the social implications of synthetic biology by microbiologist Rob Carlson of Biodesic and Thomas H. Murray, Hastings Center president. 

The Hastings Center is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan research institute devoted to the study of bioethics.

Gutmann’s article is available at http://www.upenn.edu/president/meet-president/ethics-synthetic-biology-guiding-principles-emerging-technologies