Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre

Project Items

Synthetic Portabolomics: Leading the way at the crossroads of the Digital and the Bio Economies

PEALS colleagues Simon Woods and Ken Taylor work on the Responsible Innovation strand of a major project, 'Synthetic Portabolomics: Leading the way at the crossroads of the Digital and the Bio Economies'.

Co-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Newcastle University and industry this £7.5 million, five year project is led by Nat Krasnogor, Professor of Computing Science and Synthetic Biology at the School of Computing Science, Newcastle University.

Synthetic biology involves the design and development of novel, potentially useful biological systems, or the redesign of those systems that exist already; usually in bacteria or yeasts.

The Portabolomics project aims to advance the field of synthetic biology through novel developments in cell biology, genetics, and computing science; producing a system that will enable lab research to more quickly translate into industrial application.

Scientists in this field believe that it promises to provide major value to society, with potential applications including; the production of high-value materials, such as fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals, bio-remediation of contaminated land, and sustainable energy.

Simon and Ken’s work focusses on the socio-ethical issues that arise from the pursuit of these goals and engaging colleagues in discussions about the principles and practise of responsible research and innovation.

Identifying and engaging with stakeholder groups will be a key task for the coming year and Simon and Ken will continue to conduct research and plan an exhibit and public talks that will feature in the Great North Museum over the summer of 2019.

 The 19th PEALS International Symposium, ‘The implications and impacts of a responsibility agenda for synthetic biology’

The Portabolomics project and PEALS welcomed 28 participants from around the UK and Europe to the 19th International Symposium, held on September 20th and 21st, 2018 in the Event Space, Urban Sciences Building, Newcastle University.

The central theme for the presentations and discussion was the role played by considerations of responsibility in biotechnological research and its applications, with particular reference to synthetic biology.  Speakers and participants engaged with the topic through the discussion of a number of different projects and conceptual approaches.

The symposium was opened by Professor John Goddard OBE, whose presentation on the ‘civic university’ set innovation in a social context and Professor Neil Wipat who gave a view of how a practising synthetic biologist engages with societal issues.  Subsequent presentations examined themes raised in the introductory presentations and a common point of interest was the interaction between scientists and social scientists, with a desire to move towards more co-productive research collaborations.  The event ended with a reflection on the two days’ discussion by Professor Lionel Clarke OBE.

Speakers and other participants were drawn from a range of academic disciplines including biochemistry, economics, ethics, molecular genetics, law, philosophy, politics, synthetic biology, and science and technology studies.  Delegates were from a range of jurisdictions and cultural experiences, including Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, the USA, and the UK.  A range of regulatory, policy and practice backgrounds were also represented, including participants from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, the UK Synthetic Biology Leadership Council and the UK Department for International Trade in addition to commercial biotechnology companies.

The symposium was a key component in the Responsible Innovation work strand of the EPSRC-funded ‘Synthetic Portabolomics’ programme of research led by Professor Natalio Krasnogor, School of Computer Science, Newcastle University.

Many participants have already commented on their enjoyment of the stimulating debates and fresh insights on old and new problems that resulted from the interdisciplinary nature of the event.

PEALS thanks Newcastle University’s Conference Support Fund and the Synthetic Portabolomics programme, EPSRC Grant Nos. EP/J004111/ 2, EP/L001489/2, and EP/N031962/1, for supporting the symposium.

Symposium 2019 booklet (PDF 1MB) including abstracts and biographies.