Research into the environmental implications of artificial life
Synthetic biology combines biology and engineering and enables scientists to create new living beings and components not found in nature.
The field promises the mass production of cheap drugs and biofuels.
But there are calls for a moratorium on the field release of artificially engineered organisms or components because of the potential risks to biodiversity.
The Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will be debating such a moratorium at the end of April.
Any recommendation made by SBSTTA will go forward to the governing body of the Convention in India in October 2012.
New research seeks to inform those debates by mapping the scientific landscape for synthetic biology.
The paper “Scientific Biology:Mapping the Scientific Landscape” is by Dr Paul Oldham and Dr Stephen Hall of the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen), a collaboration between Cardiff and Lancaster Universities, along with Geoff Burton from the United Nations University in Japan.
Dr Oldham said: “Based on the empirical evidence we propose that guidance could be provided to funding agencies to respect the letter and spirit of the Convention on Biological Diversity in making research investments. Building on the recommendations of the United States Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues we demonstrate that it is possible to promote independent and transparent monitoring of developments in synthetic biology using modern information tools.
“In particular, public and policy understanding and engagement with synthetic biology can be enhanced through the use of online interactive tools. As a step forward in this process we make existing data on the scientific literature on synthetic biology available in an online interactive workbook so that researchers, policy makers and civil society can explore the data and draw conclusions for themselves.”
The article uses data from Thomson Reuters Web of Science to map and analyse
the scientific landscape for synthetic biology, drawing on recent advances in data
visualisation and analytics.