Leading Scientists Discuss Synthetic Biology at President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative Event

Posted on: 20 January 2014

Trinity College Dublin's Science Gallery recently welcomed leading scientist Drew Endy, of Stanford University, to discuss ethical questions at the special event Designing Life: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology. One of the first events of the President of Ireland's Ethics Initiative, the discussion aimed to kick-start a national and international conversation about ethics with third level institutions, posing questions such as: 'Who should be permitted to design life?'

The event, hosted in collaboration with the Trinity Long Room Hub, also featured discussion with Dr Hugh Whittall, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an organisation dedicated to exploring ethical issues in biology and medicine that published the 2012 report, Emerging Biotechnologies: Technology, Choice and the Public Good.

Drew Endy is a pioneer in the emerging field of synthetic biology. He was listed by Esquire Magazine as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century and by the Wall St Journal as "the next Steve Jobs". Dr Whittall previously held senior positions at the Department of Health, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and the European Commission.

As part of the President of Ireland's Ethics Initiative, which will be formally announced in the coming weeks, President Higgins is working with the universities across the island of Ireland, Dublin Institute of Technology, and the Royal Irish Academy to create a programme of public-facing events and initiatives that will stimulate debate on and awareness of ethical themes, questions and concerns.

"Trinity welcomed the opportunity to participate in this initiative under the auspices of the Science Gallery and the Trinity Long Room Hub.  As a University, public discourse and engagement is central to our role. The first of these events focused on the important area of science, and we hope to host other events concerning a range of ethical issues in the course of the year," said Vice-Provost, Professor Linda Hogan.

The event marked the closing of GROW YOUR OWN, an exhibition at Science Gallery that invited visitors to consider some of the potentially ground-breaking applications and uncertain implications of synthetic life in the future.

"Synthetic biology is a simultaneously exciting and frightening emerging field whose future has yet to be determined and this exhibition has thrown up lots of questions about the ethical questions surrounding this area for our audience. They had the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the leading minds in the field at this event. We also presented Drew with Honorary Membership to our Leonardo group, a group of inspirational individuals whose achievements in science, technology, education, business and the arts exemplify the Science Gallery mission of igniting discovery where art and science collide," added Michael John Gorman, Director of Science Gallery.