I watched the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) live webcast yesterday (Jan.8.09) with Arthur Caplan, an ethicist, discussing ethical implications associated with synthetic biology. If you’re interested the webcast will be compressed and made available on their site in about five or six days. (I’ll put up a link when I see it there.)
There ware a couple of interesting bits. Caplan pointed out that emerging technology and science is often represented as appearing magically overnight when in fact it’s the result of years of incremental work which was being discussed not only by scientists but also social scientists, ethicists, and policy makers. I think that happens because it makes a better story and/or because a lot of reporters have no context. Reporters don’t necessarily spend much time on any particular beat and today’s science reporter might be yesterday’s sports reporter.
Caplan also mentioned Craig Venter who is determined to prove that there is no difference between life and nonlife. ie. That you can create a living organism by putting together ingredients such as synthesized DNA that you can purchase via the internet. Denise Caruso (blog posting Jan.7.09) alluded to that perspective in her PEN webcast on synthetic biology. She ascribed to the fact that a lot of the people involved in developing synthetic biology have engineering and/or IT backgrounds. As she pointed out, organismic biologists do not share the opinion and in fact use different language and, for the most part, are not involved in the synthetic biology discussions.