"The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."
-Isaac Asimov, Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988).


Box Office Bioethics

Marylka Griffith’s winning entry in a competition run by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Some people believe that synthetic biology is a horrific transgression of the natural world, while others believe it follows naturally from our growing understanding of biological systems.

Some believe that ethical decisions involve some kind of calculus weighing risks and benefits, and some believe there are moral rules we cannot cross without losing our humanity.

Some even think that morality is just behaviour that has evolved through natural selection.

What do you believe?
How does Synthetic Biology make you feel?
Do you think this sort of thing is likely to happen?

surveys & polls

What if...

  • We could design renewable, recycleable consumer goods?
  • We could replace coal and oil with biofuels?
  • We could create biological alternatives to chemical pesticides and herbicides?
  • Synthetic organisms leave the lab, intentionally or unintentionally?
  • Ordinary people could design bioweapons?
  • There was a new biological arms race between people producing pathogens and people producing vaccines?
  • Governments could take control of research and industrial Synthetic Biology during war-time?
  • Your grandchildren grow up in a synthetic environment?
  • Synthetic organisms have ecological impacts just like introduced species?
surveys & polls


Debate between Drew Endy and Jim Thomas, hosted by the Long Now Foundation.

In the future, will...

  • Synthetic biology help us understand life?
  • The benefits of synthetic biology be distributed evenly and justly?
  • There be sufficient international consensus for consistent regulation and cooperation between countries?
  • Regulations limit scientific freedom?
  • Workers be safe from their own creations?
  • Our understanding and treatment of disease improve?
  • Medicine be personalised and tailored to one’s genome?
  • Genetic information be used to prevent or prove crime?
  • Insurers or employers treat people differently based on genetic information?
  • Synthetic biology increase inequalities in international trade and development?
  • Synthetic biology undermine the dignity of life?


U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Report given to the Obama administration in 2010.


J. Craig Venter Institute, MIT and CSIS.

Collaborative study of policy options for synthetic genomics done in 2007.


ETC Group

2007 report investigating the effects of synthetic biology on vulnerable peoples and the environment.


Nuffield Council
on Bioethics

2012 report entitled Ethics and Emerging Biotechnologies done in the U.K.