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Public Policy

Understanding the need for public and Congressional education about the science of genomics and its implications in solving some very real domestic and global issues led to the establishment of an SGI presence in Washington, DC. We have a small team of policy experts that provide valuable information on our work so that our Congressional leaders can be informed about this emerging area of science.

Deploying Renewable Technologies

At SGI we believe the world will only be weaned off fossil fuels through a wide array of available and viable alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, and the various biologically-based fuels that we and others are developing. Policy can play a vital role in enabling these homegrown and renewable sources of energy. As an example, the following priorities could help eliminate or significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil:

  • Funding to foster the research, development, demonstration and commercial application of next generation fuels, including genomic-driven technologies that produce fuels from renewable feedstocks and carbon dioxide.
  • The development of a leveled playing field with respect to alternatives to traditional (fossil) transportation fuels. For example, tariffs and subsidies that favor the production of corn-based ethanol distort the marketplace and discourage the production of other renewable liquid fuels that are vastly superior.
  • A flexible and equitable carbon-tax system across all forms of energy.

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Ethical Considerations with Emerging Technologies

Synthetic genomics holds great promise for addressing energy, environmental and human health challenges, but as with many areas of science it is important to address and understand any potential for misuse. From the earliest experiments, Dr. Venter and his teams have been working to help drive this field scientifically, while also focusing on the ethical and societal implications of this work. He and his teams have been leading and supporting serious review of dual-use technologies by various scientific and governmental organizations to ensure there are adequate safeguards for any research having the potential for misuse.

While working on the minimal genome/synthetic genome in the mid-1990's Dr. Venter and colleagues stopped work and sought out an outside year-long ethical review. This bioethical discourse and findings were then published at the same time as the first minimal genome research paper, and stated that there were no ethical barriers to this work and it should proceed with caution. In 2006/2007 a policy team at the J. Craig Venter Institute, along with collaborators from the Center for Strategic & International Studies, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, convened a series of workshops, funded by the Sloan Foundation, to explore the risks and benefits of synthetic genomics. A report was issued in October 2007 that provides guidelines on laboratory standards in synthetic biology. Recently, policy researchers at the JCVI were awarded another grant from the Sloan Foundation to continue their exploration of the ethical and societal issues surrounding synthetic genomic research.

SGI believes, as outlined in the report, that there are areas within the field of synthetic genomics/biology that could benefit from regulatory oversight to ensure that there are adequate protections against potential biothreats. We engage in public education which includes outreach to legislators to ensure they understand the science and applications of our exciting area of research.

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