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The Study of Socioethical Issues in Systems Biology

O'Malley, M   Calvert, J   Dupre J

American Journal of Bioethics   7 (4) 67-78

April 2007   (Version of record first published April 2007)

Research at Innogen: Systems Biology: Emergence, Aspirations and Translations

Systems biology is the rapidly growing and heavily funded successor science to genomics. Its mission is to integrate extensive bodies of molecular data into a detailed mathematical understanding of all life processes, with an ultimate view to their prediction and control. Despite its high profile and widespread practice, there has so far been almost no bioethical attention paid to systems biology and its potential social consequences. We outline some of systems biology's most important socioethical issues by contrasting the concept of systems as dynamic processes against the common static interpretation of genomes. New issues arise around systems biology's capacities for in silico testing, changing cultural understandings of life, synthetic biology, and commercialization. We advocate an interdisciplinary and interactive approach that integrates social and philosophical analysis and engages closely with the science. Overall, we argue that systems biology socioethics could stimulate new ways of thinking about socioethical studies of life sciences.