Alfred P Sloan Foundation funds studies on societal issues of
13 January 2009
The Alfred P Sloan Foundation has launched a new initiative to study
the societal issues associated with synthetic biology — a rapidly
developing scientific field where researchers are constructing novel
organisms from the building blocks of DNA.
The intitiave will bring together leading scientists, ethicists and
public policy specialists to explore the field's potential benefits and
risks, as well as ethical questions and regulatory issues.
The Foundation has awarded three grants totaling more than US$1.6
million to The Hastings Center, the J Craig Venter Institute, and the
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
"The Foundation has a long and rich tradition of funding scientific
research," said Dr. Paul Joskow, President Alfred P Sloan Foundation.
"With synthetic biology, scientists have gone from reading to writing
the genetic code; it's imperative that we take a carefully reasoned and
systematic approach to understanding the full spectrum of ethical and
policy issues that may arise as research and applications in this field
At the New York-based Hastings Center, Foundation funding will allow
for in-depth investigation into ethical issues that may arise in
connection with developments in synthetic biology. The project aims to
make serious contributions to scholarly literature, produce a base for
further scholarship, and inform public policymaking.
The J Craig Venter Institute will examine potential societal concerns
associated with developments in synthetic genomics. The project will
both inform the scientific community about these issues while also
educating the policy and journalistic communities about the science. As
a result, scientists, journalists and policymakers will be able to
engage in informed discussions.
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will analyze
evolving public perceptions of potential societal risks that may arise
related to research in and applications of synthetic biology, clarify
whether our existing regulatory systems can address relevant risks that
may be associated with the science, and inform and educate policymakers.
"This program builds on the Foundation's biosecurity work and will
establish a community of scientists, ethicists and policy specialists
who can work synergistically on these issues," said Paula Olsiewski,
Program Director, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "Ethical and policy
discussions must be informed by the realities of the science and
similarly the science must take into consideration societal concerns so
that synthetic biology can be applied both inventively and wisely."
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