ENGINEERING LIFE AND ITS SOCIETAL RAMIFICATIONS
Synthetic biology (SB), the design and construction of new biological systems, is an emerging science and engineering field that applies engineering principles to biology. SB has become one of the most dynamic new fields of biology, with the potential to revolutionize the way we do biotechnology today. By applying the toolbox of engineering disciplines to biology, bioengineers aim to come up with a toolbox of standard biological parts, a biological chassis, or unnatural life forms. In technology assessment, the potentially wide-ranging ramification of SB on society are analysed, dealing e.g. with biosafety questions, issues on intellectual property rights or ethics. Technology assessment nowadays also makes use of participatory forms of engagement with different stakeholders and the public. This is in many ways useful, not least because one subfield of synthetic biology may enable non-scientists to engineer new life forms, as do-it-yourself biologists and bio-artists push for a democratization of biotechnology.
Markus Schmidt was born in Vienna in 1974. He has an interdisciplinary background with an education in electronic and biomedical engineering (HTL), biology (MSc) and risk research (PhD). His research interests include risk assessment, the science-society interface, and technology assessment (TA) of novel bio-, nano- and converging technologies. In the last 5 years he pioneered the research on the societal implications of synthetic biology in Europe. He also produced two science documentary films and organises the first Science, Art and Film Festival on synthetic biology, called Bio:Fiction, in May 2011 in Vienna.