Safeguarding Biotechnology — Ecosystem Map

Biology is hard to do by yourself. More than just the collection of theories and logic it’s grounded in, the physical and organizational infrastructure required to develop projects make the barrier to entry quite steep. This makes it ever the more surprising that in the last ten or so years, a community of “do it yourself” biologists have found a way to actualize projects on scales approaching those of institutionally supported laboratories. Concurrently, the past two decades have seen the rise of synthetic biology, a sub-discipline that integrates the methods, strategies, and tools of engineering with the study of life. The confluence of these two developments has raised moral, ethical, and existential concerns with the democratization of biology.

Synthetic biology is a dual-use technology. Just as easy as it is to see how the application of engineering thinking to come up with ways of repurposing nature’s toolkit to tackle, say, waste management or develop more drought tolerant vegetables, it is also easy to see how biology can be weaponized to recreate pathogenic viruses or develop deadiler versions of the ones that plague us today. Biotechnology is regulated in the United States, broadly, by the UDSA, the FDA, and the EPA. However, on a more granular level, the processes, spaces, and materials involved in the practice of synthetic biology are managed by a wide web of companies, norms, and relationships. My network map attached begins to show how these actors are related. Safeguarding_DIY_Biology MAP

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