Synbio Interviews

During the workshop select participants shared their views about various aspects of the societal aspects of synthetic biology. 




"I think the metaphors are very important in this field;...challenging the metaphors can have consequences for how people take their work forward."

Research & Innovation, Integration & Reflexivity

Jane Calvert
Reader in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies
University of Edinburgh


"We should look more broadly into society because there are many more groups involved than those who are often representing parts of the population."

DIY/Makers, Public Opinion & Values, International Collaboration

Christopher Coenen
Senior Researcher
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology


"Students and faculty need to be able to go back and forth more easily than is the case now between disciplines."

Sustainability, Risk, Ethics, Integration & Reflexivity

James Collins
Professor, School of Life Sciences
Arizona State University


"In just a short period of 10 years or so, we've gone from doing parlor tricks in the labs to engineering therapeutics in the human gut."

Ethics, Integration & Reflexivity, Anticipation & Futures, Public Opinion & Values, Research & Innovation Systems Analysis 

Kevin Costa
Managing Director, Synberc
University of California, Berkeley


"Innovation isn't a good in itself; innovation is good because of what it produces for society."

Anticipation, Governance, Integration & Reflexivity, Ethics 

Jason Delbourne
Associate Professor in Science, Policy, and Society
North Carolina State University


"The idea that fear is an acceptable driving factor for policy is one that I'd really like to find a way out of."

Governance, Biosecurity & Biosafety, Risk, Governance

Sam Weiss Evans
Research Fellow, University of California, Berkeley
Visiting Researcher, Harvard & Massachusetts Institute of Technology


"One of the biggest issues we face as a society is how can we appropriately coordinate, integrate, do justice to...the diverse capacities associated with different disciplines."

Integration & Reflexivity, Risk, Governance, Ethics 

George Khusf
Director, Center for Bioethics
University of South Carolina


"There's a lot of literature, a lot of good humanities and social science research; it hasn't been translated as well as it could have been into society."

Research & Innovation Systems Analysis, Anticipation & Futures, Governance, Integration & Reflexivity

Jennifer Kuzma
​Co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center
North Carolina State University


"We don't need to anticipate the future. We need to look at what's actually being set today, what's being done today."

Anticipation & Futures, Public Opinion & Values, Responsible Innovation

Claire Marris
Senior Lecturer, Centre for Food Policy, Sociology Department
City University London


"We've found that direct, practical collaboration on real problems is actually a great research method. You could call this dual-use partnerships. " 

Bioeconomy, Anticipation, Ethics, Risk, Integration & Reflexivity, Biosecurity & Biosafety, Public Opinions & Values

Ken Oye
Professor, Engineering Systems & Political Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Director of Policy & Practices, Synberc
University of California, Berkeley


"One of the really interesting questions here centralized or decentralized our infrastructure and institutions need to be in order to balance different types of power and responsibility." 

Governance, Research & Innovations Systems Analysis, Risk, Integration & Reflexivity

Megan Palmer
Perry Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Stanford University
Deputy Director, Synberc, University of California, Berkeley


"Certainly the history of antibiotics suggests that you need to look at the social questions alongside the technical and scientific ones." 

Governance, Research & Innovations Systems Analysis, Integration & Reflexivity, Sustainability, Anticipation & Futures

Sujatha Raman
Assistant Professor, Science and Technology Studies
University of Nottingham


"What the science can do and what it should do are in this constant--ideally--creative tension with one another."

Ethics, Public Opinion & Values, Research & Innovations Systems Analysis, Bioeconomy

Dietram Scheufele
Professor, Science & Communication
University of Wisconsin


"If you look at the way biotechnology has been debated in the past, and at the controversies that relate to biotechnology, it's often also about these sometimes quite hidden notions behind this idea of sustainability."

Risk, Sustainability, Public Opinion & Values, Research & Innovation Systems Analysis

Dirk Stemerding
Senior Researcher, Technology Assessment
Rathenau Instituut


"You can come up with a lot of erroneous conclusions if you don't have fine-grain analysis."

Research & Innovation Systems Analysis, Biosafety & Biosecurity, Risk, Public Opinions & Values

Kathleen Vogel
Director of Science, Technology & Society Program
North Carolina State University


"You can go through all these discourses...and map out what ability expectations they have. From there you can nearly predict what they will agree with and what they will see as risk and what they don't see as risk."

Research & Innovation Systems Analysis, Risk, Public Opinions & Values, Integration & Reflexivity

Gregor Wolbring
Associate Professor, Community Health Sciences
University of Calgary




"We really need to strike a balance between promoting the technology...[and] adequate institution of some sort of evaluative process."

Governance, Biosafety & Biosecurity, Public Opinion & Values, Inter-Agency Collaboration, Risk

Jeff Morris
Deputy Director
Pollution Prevention Toxics
US Environmental Protection Agency

To learn more about the coordinated framework mentioned in the interview, please see the two-page background paper "Synthetic Biology and EHS Governance: The Coordinated Framework Case," co-authored by Jeff Morris.


"Whether you're an engineer or a computer scientist, there absolutely is a shared responsibility in safeguarding the development and application of this field."

Biosafety & Biosecurity, Governance, Risk

Edward You
US Federal Bureau of Investigation




"From a design point of view, what's important to me is how many potential issues--both scientifically motivated and society-motivated--can we anticipate early on so that we can design the best possible project and avoid the problems that are hard to fix at the end of a project."

Anticipation, Public Opinion & Values, Biosafety & Bisecurity

Patrick Boyle Screen Shot

Patrick Boyle
Organism Designer
Ginko BioWorks, Inc.




"The scientists have knowledge about the field of synthetic biology and its possibilities, and the public has knowledge about society, their community, their personal values, what things are important to them, and what their priorities are."

Informal Science Education, Public Opinion & Values

Larry Bell
Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives
Museum of Science, Boston


"If you want lawsuits and consumer boycotts, don't have regulations."

Public Opinion & Values, Governance, Risk, International & Inter-agency Collaboration, Ethics, Biosafety & Biosecurity

Jaydee Hanson
Policy Advisor, Center for Food Safety
International Center for Technology Assessment


"A lot of big questions about what would count as success for society with synthetic biology lead us in the direction of trying to figure out how to engage the public about it."

Ethics, Public Opinion & Values, Integration & Reflexivity

Greg Kaebnick
​Editor and Research Scholar
​The Hastings Center


"You need to start looking at the impacts from below on the poorest and most marginal people, the people who make up most of the world's people."

Ethics, Public Opinion & Values, Sustainability, Bioeconomy 

Jim Thomas
​Program Director
ETC Group


Workshop sponsored by National Science Foundation award #1445903


Collage Photo Credits

Top Row, left to right

Bottom Row, left to right

  • Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff), 1934, Public Domain, Wikipedia, (cropped)
  • Communities of Integration, 2013, CNS photo
  • Multipart BioBrick, Registry of Standard Biological Parts,
  • Artemisia annua, 2003, Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service (cropped & changed to B & W)
  • A/CA/4/09 Swine Flu Virus, 2009, Public Domain, CDC/C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish
  • CNS Board of Visitors Meeting, 2013, CNS photo