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Working group

In 2007, our Bioscience for Society Strategy Panel set up a working group to consider issues raised by the emerging area of synthetic biology.

The group commissioned an independent review of social and ethical challenges associated with research into, and the application of, synthetic biology. The report of this review 'Synthetic biology: social and ethical challenges' was published in June 2008.


Dr B Johnson (Chair) - Independent
Dr L Archer - King’s College London
Professor D Burke CBE DL - Independent
Professor B Davis - University of Oxford
Dr A Elfick - The University of Edinburgh
Dr P Martin - The University of Nottingham

Steering group

In 2009, with endorsement of their Chief Executives, BBSRC and EPSRC set up a Steering Group to:

  • explore the possibility of carrying out a public dialogue around synthetic biology
  • advise the Research Councils about what this might involve

After a workshop held in March 2009, the group were able to draft the aim, objectives and guiding principles for the dialogue and these were developed into an invitation to tender.


Dr B Johnson (Chair) - Independent
Dr M Cannell - Defra
Professor R Jones - The University of Sheffield
Professor R Kitney - Imperial College London
S Lansdell - Sciencewise
Dr L Paterson - Royal Academy of Engineering
Professor J Petts - University of Birmingham
Dr T Wakeford - Newcastle University
Professor R Winston - Imperial College London
Professor D Woolfson - University of Bristol
Professor P Wright - The University of Sheffield


  • To allow the diverse perspectives of a range of UK residents to be articulated clearly and in public in order that future policies can better reflect these views, concerns and aspirations


  • Facilitate discussions from diverse perspectives, which are undertaken by people who are inclusive of a range of people in society
  • Support a diversity of key stakeholders and people with relevant knowledge (e.g. industrial, regulatory, NGOs, civil society) to oversee the dialogue to ensure its fairness, competence and impact
  • Draw on and seek participation of a diversity of knowledges by working with a wide range of groups, including researchers, research council staff, social scientists and NGOs with an interest in issues related to technology options and/or synthetic biology
  • Ensure that the content and format of the dialogues are open to influence by all of the participants
  • Allow institutional learning about dialogue processes, including the diversity of views, aspirations and attitudes that exist with reference to scientific, economic and social policy and economic aspects of new technologies
  • Develop a capacity amongst all of the participants for further dialogues in the future and seek views about priority areas/issues which would merit further substantive dialogue, debate and information
  • Improve on what is seen as good practice and thus provide a foundation on which broader future engagement can build and inform the development of a longer term project of engagement
  • Raise awareness and capacity within the Research Councils, policy makers and the scientific community of aspirations, concerns and views in relation to synthetic biology and the importance of dialogue
  • Ensure that participants in the dialogue have a meaningful route to potentially influence policy makers and thus feel their involvement has been worthwhile
  • Devise novel ways of dealing with an area of technological development in which very few specific details are known

Oversight of the dialogue

BBSRC and EPSRC, with funding from Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre, commissioned the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to conduct a public dialogue on synthetic biology. At the same time, Laura Grant Associates were commissioned to evaluate the project.

The Steering Group felt that a wider set of expertise would be beneficial to advise and steer the dialogue process itself so an Oversight Group was engaged whose members represented Government, NGO's, researchers and dialogue experts.