Our research into synthetic genomics and is organised into three workstreams:
Countries, Creatures and Capacities.
What narratives and expectations are embedded in UK, US, and Japanese policies for synthetic genomics?
Policy and funding are crucial in setting the trajectories of academic research and they are often driven by narratives of economic growth, national competitiveness and scientific excellence. We will analyse the policy narratives in synthetic genomics across our three national contexts and then create a space to reflect on the values and visions shaping the future of synthetic genomics.
How does the organism being engineered feature in synthetic genomics?
The organism is often notably absent from discussions of synthetic biology. But are things different in synthetic genomics? In our prior study of the synthetic yeast project, the distinctive characteristics of the yeast were vital to the research. We will look into the extent to which we see the organism being foregrounded in synthetic genomics projects.
Could synthetic genomics change relationships between humans and other species?
Organisms come with established relations to social worlds both inside and outside the lab. Synthetic genomics reconfigures these relations by positioning humans as designers of other creatures, troubling ideas of provenance and descent. This raises questions about who should make the design decisions about the organisms of the future.
How can we build capacity for fruitful interdisciplinary collaborations between the social and natural sciences in synthetic genomics?
Over the course of the project we aim to build capacity for social scientific engagement with synthetic genomics across national contexts. We will host events that draw together social scientists and ethicists working on synthetic genomics, natural scientists and engineers, and policy makers and other stakeholders who have strong interests in cross-disciplinary working.
Responsible research and innovation
Responsible research and innovation (RRI) has risen to prominence as a means of governing emerging scientific fields. But RRI is not well equipped to engage with large-scale, international, collaborative scientific work such as that undertaken in synthetic genomics. In practice RRI often involves an individual social scientist being tasked to ‘deliver’ RRI for a single scientific research project, limiting the extent to which they can engage with broader governance structures.
We aim to develop an approach to RRI in synthetic genomics that engages with the field more broadly, allowing us to move across sites and scales – from individuals and laboratories to national and international institutions – enabling autonomous social scientific inquiry as well as productive collaborations between the natural and social sciences.