Tag Archives: Woodrow Wilson Center

Funding trends for US synthetic biology efforts

Less than 1% of total US federal funding for synthetic biology is dedicated to risk research according to a Sept. 16, 2015 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars news release on EurekAlert,

A new analysis by the Synthetic Biology Project at the Wilson Center finds the Defense Department and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) fund much of the U.S. government’s research in synthetic biology, with less than 1 percent of total federal funding going to risk research.

The report, U.S. Trends in Synthetic Biology Research, finds that between 2008 and 2014, the United States invested approximately $820 million dollars in synthetic biology research. In that time period, the Defense Department became a key funder of synthetic biology research. DARPA’s investments, for example, increased from near zero in 2010 to more than $100 million in 2014 – more than three times the amount spent by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Wilson Center news release can also be found here on the Center’s report publication page where it goes on to provide more detail and where you can download the report,

The report, U.S. Trends in Synthetic Biology Research, finds that between 2008 and 2014, the United States invested approximately $820 million dollars in synthetic biology research. In that time period, the Defense Department became a key funder of synthetic biology research. DARPA’s investments, for example, increased from near zero in 2010 to more than $100 million in 2014 – more than three times the amount spent by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“The increase in DARPA research spending comes as NSF is winding down its initial investment in the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, or SynBERC,” says Dr. Todd Kuiken, senior program associate with the project. “After the SynBERC funding ends next year, it is unclear if there will be a dedicated synthetic biology research program outside of the Pentagon. There is also little investment addressing potential risks and ethical issues, which can affect public acceptance and market growth as the field advances.”

The new study found that less than one percent of the total U.S. funding is focused on synthetic biology risk research and approximately one percent addresses ethical, legal, and social issues.

Internationally, research funding is increasing. Last year, research investments by the European Commission and research agencies in the United Kingdom exceeded non-defense spending in the United States, the report finds.

The research spending comes at a time of growing interest in synthetic biology, particularly surrounding the potential presented by new gene-editing techniques. Recent research by the industry group SynBioBeta indicated that, so far in 2015, synthetic biology companies raised half a billion dollars – more than the total investments in 2013 and 2014 combined.

In a separate Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Sept. 16, 2015 announcement about the report, an upcoming event notice was included,

Save the date: On Oct. 7, 2015, the Synthetic Biology Project will be releasing a new report on synthetic biology and federal regulations. More details will be forthcoming, but the report release will include a noon event [EST] at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

I haven’t been able to find any more information about this proposed report launch but you may want to check the Synthetic Biology Project website for details as they become available. ETA Oct. 1, 2015: The new report titled: Leveraging Synthetic Biology’s Promise and Managing Potential Risk: Are We Getting It Right? will be launched on Oct. 15, 2015 according to an Oct. 1, 2015 notice,

As more applications based on synthetic biology come to market, are the existing federal regulations adequate to address the risks posed by this emerging technology?

Please join us for the release of our new report, Leveraging Synthetic Biology’s Promise and Managing Potential Risk: Are We Getting It Right? Panelists will discuss how synthetic biology applications would be regulated by the U.S. Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology, how this would affect the market pathway of these applications and whether the existing framework will protect human health and the environment.

A light lunch will be served.


Lynn Bergeson, report author; Managing Partner, Bergeson & Campbell

David Rejeski, Director, Science and Technology Innovation Program

Thursday,October 15th, 2015
12:00pm – 2:00pm

6th Floor Board Room


Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Phone: 202.691.4000


Evelyn Fox Keller, Lee Smolin, or Kathleen M. Vogel may be speaking at a science event near you

More details are emerging about Evelyn Fox Keller’s April 2013 visit to western Canada (first mentioned in my Jan. 23, 2013 posting). Fox Keller is an eminent scholar as per this description, from my Oct. 29, 2012 posting about her talk in Halifax, Nova Scotia,

Before giving you details about where to go for a link [to her livestreamed Oct. 30, 2012 talk], here’s more about the talk and about Keller,

Fifty years ago, Thomas Kuhn irrevocably transformed our thinking about the sciences with the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. For all his success, debate about the adequacy and applicability of his formulation persists to this day. Are there scientific revolutions in biology? Molecular genetics, for example, is currently undergoing a major transformation in its understanding of what genes are and of what role they play in an organism’s development and evolution. Is this a revolution? More specifically, is this a revolution of the sort that Kuhn had in mind? How is language used? What implications can we draw from this?

Dr. Keller is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award and author of many influential works on science, society and modern biology such as: A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1983), Reflections on Gender and Science (1985), Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death: Essays on Language, Gender, and Science (1992), The Century of the Gene (2000), Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors and Machines (2002) and The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture (2010).

Keller Fox will be visiting the University of Calgary (Alberta) on April 1, the University of Alberta on April 2, and the University of British Columbia on April 4, 2013.  I’ve not found details about the University of Calgary visit but did find this for the University of Alberta visit (from the  Situating Science network node for the University of Alberta web page),

Tue., Apr. 2, 4:00 PM – , 6:00 PM

Dr. Keller visits U. Alberta as part of her travels as the Cluster Visiting Scholar.

Dr. Keller will speak at 4 pm in the Engineering and Technology Learning Centre, room 1-017d. There will be a reception directly after the talk.


Details about the visit to the University of  British Columbia are a little sparse, Situating Science network node for the University of British Columbia web page

Network Node:
University of British Columbia
Thu., Apr. 4, 5:00 PM – , 6:30 PM

What Kind of Divide Separates Biology from Culture?
Evelyn Fox Keller, History and Philosophy of Science, MIT
April 4 2013 5:00 – 6:30 pm, with reception to follow

Presented by Science and Society Series at Green College
Location: TBD

I did try to find more information about where and who might be allowed to attend her University of British Columbia (UBC) visit on the UBC site (Science and Technology Studies colloquium webpage, which lists her visit) and on their Green College site but no more details were available.

The Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario (the other side of Canada) has announced, with full details, an April 3, 2013 talk by Lee Smolin. Smolin moved to Canada in 2000 to become a founding member of the Perimeter Institute as per the biographical information attached to this event announcement. From their Mar. 13, 2013 announcement,

Time Reborn(Live webcast)

Wednesday, April 3 @ 7:00 pm
Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas
Perimeter Institute, Waterloo

Lee Smolin
Perimeter Institute

What is time? Is our perception of time passing an illusion which hides a deeper, timeless reality? Or is it real, indeed, the most real aspect of our experience of the world? Einstein said that, “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” and many contemporary theorists agree that time emerges from a more fundamental timeless quantum universe. But in recent cosmological speculation, this timeless picture of nature seems to have reached a dead end, populated by infinite numbers of imagined unobservable universes.

In this talk, Lee Smolin explains why he changed his mind about the nature of time and has embraced the view that time is real and everything else, including the laws of nature, evolves. In a world in which time is real, the future is open and there is an essential role for human agency and imagination in envisioning and shaping a good future. Read More

Win tickets to be part of the live audience at Perimeter Institute for Time Reborn.

Sign up to receive an email reminder to watch the live webcast of Time Reborn.

As a service to audience members,
Words Worth Books will be onsite at this event.

Thank you for your support!

There is no information about accessing the webcast in the announcement. I last mentioned Smolin (briefly) in a June 4, 2009 posting,

… a physicist at Canada’s Perimeter Institute, Lee Smolin who, based on his work with Roberto Mangabeira Unger, a Brazilian philospher, suggests that the timeless multiverse (beloved of physicists and science fiction writers) does not exist.

This last event with Kathleen Vogel takes place in Washington, DC. From the Mar. 13, 2013 Woodrow Wilson Center announcement,

Invitation from the Woodrow Wilson Center

and the Los Alamos National Laboratory

Book Discussion: Phantom Menace or Looming Danger?: A New Framework for Assessing Bioweapons Threats

Speaker: Kathleen M. Vogel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Science & Technology Studies

Acting Director, Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies

Cornell University

Date/Time: Friday, March 22, 2013, noon to 1:30 p.m.

Location: 5th Floor Conference Room

Woodrow Wilson Center in the Ronald Reagan Building,

1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

(“Federal Triangle” stop on Blue/Orange Line)

Please RSVP (acceptances only) at iss@wilsoncenter.org

For directions see the map on the Center’s website at www.wilsoncenter.org/directions. Please bring a photo ID and allow additional time to pass through a security checkpoint.

This meeting is part of an ongoing series that provides a forum for policy specialists from Congress and the Executive, business, academia, and journalism to exchange information and share perspectives on current nonproliferation issues. Lunch will be served. Seating is limited.

Cascio thoughts on augmenting intelligence and some other odds and sods

It’s Jamais Cascio time … again! He’s got an article here in the Atlantic (July/August 2009 issue) about humans surviving because we get smarter. In the past this has been a passive, reactive response to changing environmental conditions but now we’re evolving ourselves in a proactive fashion. From the article,

Yet in one sense, the age of the cyborg and the super-genius has already arrived. It just involves external information and communication devices instead of implants and genetic modification. The bioethicist James Hughes of Trinity College refers to all of this as “exo­cortical technology,” but you can just think of it as “stuff you already own.” Increasingly, we buttress our cognitive functions with our computing systems, no matter that the connections are mediated by simple typing and pointing. These tools enable our brains to do things that would once have been almost unimaginable:

Cascio goes on to describe curent and potential augmentations and possibilities. My biggest reservations centre around his enthusiasm for using drugs to augment intelligence. Specifically, he extolls the virtues of modafinil (trade name Provigil) which, according to Cascio, is widely used in the tech community for its intelligence enhancing capabilities and for the fact that you will need to sleep less. Have you ever looked at a Compendium of Pharmaceuticals? It’s a comprehensive listing of drugs that doctors and pharamacists use to see what kinds of side effects and problems a drug can cause? I haven’t looked up this drug but I have done it for others and I’m willing to bet that there are any number of unpleasant side effects possible. As to what impact, long term (decades long?) regular use might have … who knows?

Interestingly some of the enhancements that Cascio attributes to the drug are also described by sages as a consquence of something called awakening,

… I noticed a much greater capacity for clarity and simplicity. My mind became a more subtle tool, a more powerful tool; it coud be used in a very precise way, like a laser. Before this transformation happened, I wouldn’t say my mind operated on that level, so there was some sort of a transformation that led to a new sense of clarity and focus. (pp. 121-2) The End of Your World; uncensored straight talk on the nature of enlightenment by Adyashanti.

For another take on Cascio’s article, go to the Foresight Institute here.

If you are interested in a roundup of Nanotechnology News this week, you can visit the blog ‘This Week in Nanotechnologyhere. Also, I received an invitation from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to an event at the Smithsonian. It doesn’t look like there will be a webcast but if you’re in Washington, DC (Wednesday, July 8, 2009, 10 am to 11 am at the Woodrow Wilson Center),

Secretary [of the Smithsonian] Wayne Clough explains how the Smithsonian Institution can make major contributions on issues of national and international concern, particularly global warming and biodiversity, education, and issues of national identity. He discusses how the Institution is connecting in new ways with new audiences.

If you can attend, contact: Maria-Stella.Gatzoulis@wilsoncenter.org.

Have a nice weekend!