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Sustainability and Anticipatory Governance in Synthetic Biology

Wiek, A.   Guston, D.   Frow, E.   Calvert, J

International Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable Development   3 (2) 25-38

May 2012

A prominent imaginary of synthetic biology is the sustainability of bio-based technologies. In this paper, the authors discuss various reports, papers, and activities in synthetic biology in relation to a core set of principles of sustainability, paying particular attention to the concept of “prudent vigilance” as introduced by the report by the U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The authors introduce two additional concepts – anticipatory governance and transformational sustainability science – and outline an approach for systematically incorporating sustainability considerations into the development of synthetic biology that addresses the challenges and opportunities presented by the field in a more robust way than prudent vigilance. The authors conclude that an opportunity exists to shape synthetic biology toward sustainable outcomes and make recommendations for how research funders might seize this opportunity.