Conference: Community labs and synthetic biology
In 2012 our team held a public panel discussion about bioethics. Moreover in the last years we had a lot of debates about the future of synthetic biology and the chances and risks of community labs, during our work for Synenergene and the german iGEM meetups. Since a new biohackerspace is forming in Darmstadt, with close connections to our team, we decided to lead a panel discussion about these two topics. As a first step we had a round table discussion with the iGEM team of RWTH Aachen. Here we talked about the pros, cons and possible trends of community labs (please visit the wiki of RWTH Aachen for further details and results). This formed the fundament for our panel discussion.
The panel discussion
We had several experts for the discussion, which was divided in two subtopics. The discussion was moderated by members of our team while the audience was allowed to ask questions and become thereby an important part of the debate. The investigated questions lead to interesting results that gave our team new views on the prior executed researches as well as on possible future planned projects.
Discussion 1: The future of synthetic Biology
- Prof. Dr. Heribert Warzecha, professor for plant biotechnology (TU Darmstadt)
- Dr. Harald König, biologist on the Institute for technical aftermath (KIT Karlsruhe)
- M.A. Reinhard Heil, philosopher on the Institute for technical aftermath (KIT Karlsruhe)
Discussion 2: Risks and chances of community labs
- Prof. Dr. Alfred Nordmann, professor for philosophy of technology (TU Darmstadt)
- Kai Ruf, founder of the biohackerspace lab3
Results discussion 1
Within the next five to ten years synthetic biology will not change our life or our society completely. This scenario is mostly envisioned by some American scientists whose companies need big investments. Thus they have a crucial interest in the upkeep of “radical visions”. It will take much more time and development till synthetic biology could have such a big impact on society like computers, the internet etc.
Until now the socio-cultural advantage of synthetic biology is the possibility of lower production costs for already existing products. If somebody had to choose between two similar products he would not select the one manufactured with synthetic biology, except the price difference is significant. The only chance to increase the acceptance is to provide additional products which cannot be made without synthetic biology. The consumer can see directly the benefit for his life and thus the benefit of synthetic biology.
Results discussion 2
Against the general position in Germany there are detailed laws concerning the fundation of a lab at home. These laws are very strict and make the establishment of a biohackerspace rather difficult.
Community labs include the threat of bioterrorism. But this seems to be an emotional fear rather than a rational one. The creation of bioweapons has several big limitations. To get them weapon-grade deep expertise and very expensive equipment is needed. For common people both things nearly can’t be achieved. Community labs won’t change this situation.
A great benefit of “open science” is the checkability of companies and scientific work. Broadly spread community labs would give the people the chance to make chemical and biological tests of water quality, food, medicine etc. It can largely increase the consumer protection if everybody is able to check the statements of companies etc.