03 April 2019

Synthetic Biology

 'Mapping the potential impact of synthetic biology on Australian foreign policy' by Thom Dixon in (2019) Australian Journal of International Affairs comments
Synthetic biology is an emerging technology that will impact on the future security and prosperity of Australia. As a discrete policy area synthetic biology has not been explored in relation to Australian foreign policy. To begin this process an understanding of Australia’s genetic endowment, Australia’s agricultural endowment and those security concerns novel to synthetic biology need to be developed. The convergence of the biological sciences and the information sciences is creating novel security concerns that impact on Australian sovereignty, both mainland and the Antarctic Territories, plant and animal health, and defence medical infrastructure. These concerns cross many traditional disciplinary and policy boundaries, an awareness of this is required and a nascent national practitioner community can develop this further. Drawing from work conducted by the US and UK synthetic biology practitioner communities, this article lays out the unique touch points synthetic biology has on Australian foreign policy. ... 
The field of health security has tracked developments in synthetic biology for some time (Carter and Warner 2018; Chen 2018; Lentzos 2012), though this work is often grounded in questions of monitoring and governance without holistically integrating the different policy areas that synthetic biology touches on. Health security offers a good location from which to approach the area with an international affairs perspective, and Australia provides a useful case study as the country has a unique genetic endowment and an agri- cultural sector that stands to benefit from synthetic biotechnologies. It also has an emer- ging and globally competitive research capability in synthetic biology (SBA 2018). This article will first provide a national context for synthetic biology in Australia and define the emerging science and technology. It will contextualise Australian genetic resources and the Australian agricultural sector while exploring what this means for Australia in relation to synthetic biology. It will identify a small number of novel concerns and challenges that synthetic biology gives rise to in the international context, primarily at the interface of the biological sciences and the information sciences, concerns that did not exist prior to the emergence of synthetic biology. Finally, the article will note how the US has created a dom- estic community of synthetic biology technicians, policy and security practitioners and discuss how such an effort is also needed in the Australian context.