First Press Release of Synenergene: Fostering Responsible Research and Innovation on Synbio

First Press Release of Synenergene: Fostering Responsible Research and Innovation on Synbio

Representatives of 28 European and international networks and institutions met in Karlsruhe to kick off SYNENERGENE. A four-year initiative coordinated by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), SYNENERGENE aims to foster public discourse and stakeholder activities relating to synthetic biology, an emerging field of science and technology that focuses on designing and creating novel biological systems. Though it promises to devise solutions for pressing energy, public health and environmental issues, synthetic biology also gives rise to a number of challenges, including potential environmental and socio-economic risks. That said, public awareness of synthetic biology remains low.

The SYNENERGENE consortium has been awarded €4 million by the European Commission (EC) to involve citizens and a broad variety of stakeholders in the social shaping of the field, to foster an open dialogue about the field’s potential benefits and risks, and to explore what responsible governance of synthetic biology might entail.

The initiative will contribute to the EC's "Science in Society" activities within the new framework of responsible research and innovation (RRI). The EC wishes to see a wide variety of social groups, stakeholders and citizens collaborating throughout all stages of research and innovation with a view to better aligning science and technology with the values, needs and expectations of society. Key EC-funded instruments in this context are the Mobilisation and Mutual Learning Action Plans (MMLAPs). Through its highly ambitious MMLAP, the SYNENERGENE consortium intends to make major contributions to RRI in the field of synthetic biology on the basis of public participation and mutual learning processes among a wide variety of stakeholders from science, industry, civil society, education, art and other fields. Iterative mutual learning within SYNENERGENE will help bring about a better understanding of synthetic biology research and innovation and will enhance public engagement. At the same time, it will stimulate reflection on novel approaches to inclusive governance frameworks capable of fostering RRI.

"Synthetic biology is an emerging field of science and technology, the contours of which are not yet clear", says Christopher Coenen from KIT's Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS). "We aim to involve citizens and a wide variety of stakeholders at an early stage in the process and to stimulate discussions between them. By combining proven and highly innovative means of interaction, SYNENERGENE will foster mutual learning, support society in shaping the field and develop sustainable agendas which will contribute to responsible research and innovation in synthetic biology and beyond."

International in scope, the initiative boasts an impressive work programme which entails staging more than 100 events, though it will remain flexible enough to accommodate the dynamics of an emergent field, to allow for citizens to get involved, and to offer manifold opportunities for other initiatives and organisations to cooperate with SYNENERGENE.