Responsible research and innovation (RRI) entails challenges for politics and society. How can we better align innovations in science and technology with the values, needs and expectations of society? How can we engage the various societal actors in the co-construction of innovative solutions, products and services? These questions frame the European Commission's "Science in Society" (SiS) Action Plan and with regard to synthetic biology are tackled in a variety of ways in the SYNENERGENE project.
Synthetic biology is a multidisciplinary field of science and technology in which scientists from disciplines such as molecular biology, nanobiotechnology, organic chemistry, engineering and computer science work together to design novel biological systems. Although such systems offer potential for applications in energy, new materials and pharmaceutics, they also give rise to a number of challenges, including potential environmental and socio-economic risks. Public awareness of synthetic biology is still low, however, and the precise contours of the field are not yet clear even to scientists working in it.
In this early development phase of synthetic biology, the aim of the SYNENERGENE project is to initiate various activities with a view to stimulating and fostering debate on the opportunities and risks of this technology. Coordinated by ITAS, more than 25 networks and institutions from Europe and the Americas have joined forces to draw up a "Mobilization and Mutual Learning Action Plan" (MMLAP). Among other things, they will monitor developments in synthetic biology, identify critical aspects, experiment with diverse participation formats – from citizen consultations and theatrical debates – and engage stakeholders from science, art, industry, politics, civil society and other fields in the debate about synthetic biology. As well as coordinating the initiative, ITAS has also been tasked with leading the SYNENERGENE platform on "Research and Policy", the aim of which is to identify demands and strategies for the political regulation of synthetic biology.
The SYNENERGENE project is keen to foster public discourse on synthetic biology while at the same time developing sustainable agendas in the fields of policy, research and participation. It will contribute to responsible research and innovation in synthetic biology and beyond.