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Science and Technology Committee
Enquiry into Bio-engineering

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Bio-engineering aims to examine how the UK can maintain a globally competititve position in emerging and existing bio-engineering research fields. The inquiry will focus on synthetic biology, stem cells and genetic modification in order to explore the issues of research, translation and regulation.

Synthetic biology, stem cells and GM all demonstrate the interconnections between scientific and technological developments on the one hand and social, ethical, regulatory and public concerns on other.

In the area of synthetic biology we highlight the importance of early-stage decisions on ownership and sharing for the development of the field, and argue that the UK’s internationally competitive position can only be maintained through investment in interdisciplinary research.

We address the difficulty of the commercialisation of stem cells from two angles. First, our research on public engagement in stem cell research has shown that the ethical framings of commercialisation must be taken into account, particularly since potential commercial exploitation could stop individuals consenting to the donation of their tissue. Second, we argue that translation to tissue-based therapies is unlikely because of the uncertain regulatory environment, modelled on pharmaceuticals, with long time-scales and costs.

In the area of GM crops, Innogen research has shown that the current European system for developing and regulating biological approaches to food crop production is seriously flawed, and that what is needed is a policy-led strategic approach to the development of an effective governance system, with a more flexible and robust design.

Innogen staff who contributed to this response include:

  • Prof Joyce Tait (synthetic biology, stem cells and GM crops)
  • Dr Jane Calvert (synthetic biology)
  • Dr Sarah Parry (stem cells)