Emerging technologies

Synthetic Biology


What is synthetic biology?


Synthetic biology is: (1) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and (2) the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes (definition from


This emerging field  is expected to impact many sectors of the economy (e.g. the chemical and energy sectors) - and on a longer-term basis, to contribute to economic growth- as well as to provide tools of great social and environmental interest. However, achieving the rewards offered by synthetic biology will require, inter alia, addressing a range of social, economic, ethical, and legal issues as well as overcoming scientific and technical challenges.


Under the auspices of the OECD, the US National Academies of Science and the UK Royal Society an international symposium entitled “Opportunities and Challenges in the Emerging Field of Synthetic Biology” was held in Washington, DC, in July 2009.


The OECD in collaboration with the United Kingdom Royal Society produced a summary report of the discussions at the symposium.

The symposium


This symposium brought together the different communities – scientific, engineering, policy, public, legal – involved in synthetic biology and explored the opportunities and challenges posed by this emerging field. The symposium was organised around expert presentations and discussions treating issues such as the state of the field and its commercial and scientific potential; the scientific, educational and commercial infrastructure needs; emerging financial and business models for its commercial development; the challenges synthetic biology may raise to legal and regulatory arrangements (e.g. biosafety, biosecurity, intellectual property rights); and the ethical dimensions of this new field.


The symposium aimed to contribute to fostering the safe and efficient development of synthetic biology by identifying issues and areas for future study and informing policy-makers. 


A progress report on this activity will be posted in 2011. For more information please contact: [email protected]


Last updated: 29 November 2010