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SynthEthics - A Phylosophical Debate

Emerging technologies must not forget to have a clear bioethical stand, and synthetic biology should be no different. Advances in this field may open the door to engineering living systems in a similar way we design new dishwashers, computers or spaceships, and may certainly improve our life quality. However, we are talking about the same engineering has created sophisticated weapons, tanks, and the atomic bomb: synthetic biology could be used for good or bad. Even though we may expect huge benefits from it, there are risks. One major concrete concern refers to the possibility of purposely designing pathogenic strains as a tool for bioterrorism. What was fiction a decade ago, namely the creation of a target population specific pathogen, may aid from advances in tumor specific therapies and recent improvements in DNA synthesis and become a real weapon for xenophobism. To address all these issues, different bodies, agents and organizations have started lively discussions and actions against the potential risks of synthetic biology (discussed on the internet site of the US synthetic biology. Both in the US and in the EU several forums for discussion and documents regarding Biosafety have appeared (JCVI Synthetic Genomics - Options for Governance; Rathenau Institut; OpenWetWare). In the case of the EU, some research projects have been funded to analyze the impact and safety problems of Synthetic Biology in Europe (SYNBIOSAFE; SYNBIOLOGY) (Serrano, 2007). In this way, the success of synthetic biology will depend on its capacity to surpass traditional engineering, blending the best features of natural systems with artificial designs that are extensible, comprehensible, user-friendly, ethical, and most importantly implement stated specifications to fulfill user goals (Andrianantoandro et al., 2006).