Big Report Thursday Part 1: Bioethics and Synthetic Biology

As I Tweeted earlier today, this is a big report day for science and technology policy.  The President’s Council of Advisers for Science and Technology issued a report on the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program.  The Internet Policy Task Force of the Commerce Department has issued a report about online privacy.  The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has released its first report, which provides recommendations for dealing with the emergent discipline and technologies of synthetic biology.  I’ll hit each report over the next few days.

First up, the Bioethics Commission report.

As I mentioned recently, the report is in response to a request from the President to review the state of synthetic biology and provide policy recommendations for ethical boundaries moving forward.  The Commission came to the general conclusion that the technical challenges of synthetic biology are still significant, but that the tools required to work in this area will continue to become more available and affordable.  This poses a notable oversight challenge.

The 19 draft recommendations that the Commission dealt with in its November meeting have morphed into 18 final recommendations.  Those with specific action items typically have the Executive Office of the President doing a variety of reviews and assessments over an 18 month period.  I’ve edited the recommendations (for length) and offer them after the jump.  Reaction to the report has been generally positive, though coverage has indicated some groups seeking a more stringent oversight regime (or a ban due to the application of the precautionary principle) are disappointed with the recommendations.  While the biotechnology industry has reacted favorably, I’d suggest that the recommendations do try for a middle ground between unfettered activity and complete foreclosure of work in the field (pending risk assessments).

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