King's College London sociologists Claire Marris and Nikolas Rose work with synthetic biologists at the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation, and they write in New Scientist that it's time to have a real discussion about the pros and cons of synthetic biology, without the accompanying Sturm und Drang. Synthetic biology is "exciting but terrifying. Powerful but scary," they write. The field has "ambitious" goals to produce a relatively easy-to-use toolbox of synthetic parts that can be used to build organisms for varying purposes, they add, but, right now, these are still only goals.
Unfortunately, the dialogue surrounding synthetic biology assumes that these goals have already been met, and focus only on the possible misuses of the technology, Marris and Rose write. "This way of framing discussions is unhelpful," they add. "It is an example of 'speculative ethics' that distracts us from less exciting but more pressing questions." Instead, discussions about synthetic biology should go beyond this and seek to recognize that "the prospects for synthetic biology are likely to be both less sensational and less forbidding than is generally acknowledged," they say.