After many, many months of work, Bio Economic Research Associates (Bio-era) today released "Genome Synthesis and Design Futures: Implications for the U.S. Economy". Sponsored largely by Bio-era and the U.S. Department of Energy, with assistance from Dupont and the Berkeley Nanosciences and Nanoengineering Initiative, the report examines the present state of biological technologies, their applications to genome design, and potential impacts on the biomanufacturing of biofuels, vaccines, and chemicals. The report also employs scenario planning to develop four initial scenarios exploring the effects of technological development and governmental policy. Here is a link to the press release; over on the right side of the page are links to a short Podcast with myself and Jim Newcomb describing some of the findings.
It is a giant topic, and even at 180 pages we have really just barely scratched the surface. The changes we've already witnessed will pale in comparison to what's coming down the pike. The report deals mostly with science, technology, economics, markets, and policy, and only starts to explore the social and ethical aspects of forthcoming decisions. Future work will refine the technological and economic analyses, will flesh out the security aspects of the ferment in biological technologies, and will delve into what all this means for our society. In the preface, Jim Newcomb and Steve Aldrich note:
In presenting this analysis, we are mindful of the limitations of its scope. The arrival of new technologies for engineering biological systems for human purposes raises complex questions that lie at the intersection of many different disciplines. As the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger has written, “science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” Because this report is focused on potential economic implications of genome engineering and design technologies for the U.S. economy, there are many important questions that are not addressed here. In particular, we have not attempted to address questions of safety and biosecurity; the likelihood or possible impact of unintended consequences, such as environmental damage from the use of these technologies; or the ethical, legal, and social questions that arise. The need for thoughtful answers to these and related questions is urgent, but beyond the scope of this work. We hope to have the opportunity to investigate these questions in subsequent research.
We had a lot of help along the way, and for my part I would like to thank Drew Endy, Brian Arthur, George Church, Tom Kalil, Craig Venter, Gerald Epstein, Jay Keasling, Brad Smith, Erdogan Gulari, John Beadle, Roger Brent, John Mulligan, Michele Garfinkel, Ralph Baric, and Stephen Johnston, and Todd Harrington.
Here is web page to buy a hard copy and/or download the PDF. Just fill out the form (we're trying to track interest), and you will be sent a link to the PDF.