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Communicating synthetic biology: Deliberative strategies for addressing emergent biohype about living devices

Societal Implications of Genomics Research
Agriculture and Agri Food
Fisheries and Aquaculture
Genome Centre(s):
Génome Québec
Project Leader(s):
David Secko (Concordia University)
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
Project Description: 

Synthetic biology seeks to design and engineer living systems or redesign existing biological systems. While a potentially exciting new field, it is also one subject to “biohype”. Creating synthetic organisms that are not found in nature, for instance, has given rise to debates over bio-terrorism, “playing God” and unknown risks to human health and the environment.

Communicating about synthetic biology, its benefits and its risks, will be critical to ensuring the field’s ethical development and how people view it. Currently, though, media coverage exaggerates both its risks and its benefits, raising unrealistic expectations while triggering public fear.

Dr. David Secko from Concordia University is taking an interdisciplinary approach to the challenge of how to communicate synthetic biology effectively and in an inclusive manner. He is bringing together scientists, journalists and the lay public to together construct a model for improvements in communications practices around synthetic biology. The project builds on the demonstrated willingness of synthetic biologists to consider the ethical and social implications of their work and the presence at Concordia of the recently created Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology.

The project will contribute to important discussions about improving science journalism by creating new models for communicating contentious science and technology issues and delivering credible and trustworthy scientific information.