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Reflections on the practice of Responsible (Research and) Innovation in synthetic biology

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Kenneth Taylor, Professor Simon WoodsORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Taylor and Francis, 2020.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This paper reports our first findings from an ongoing study. We begin by reviewing our understanding of synthetic biology, RI/RRI and other social science writings before presenting findings from empirical work that highlight the limited nature of how RI/RRI is understood and a conflation with the ubiquitous ELSI paradigm, and finally, we consider wider issues of awareness-raising and competence building that are required among synthetic biologists and those they work with.The focus of this paper is a synthetic biology project based in a single UK institution and in which the authors are embedded as participant observers. This provided the opportunity to observe the start of a large, interdisciplinary project , funded by a UK Research Council and based solely in the UK, and to reflect on this emerging bioscience and (i) the extent to which social scientific writing has impacted on the practices and thought processes of synthetic biologists, (ii) the extent to which the concept of synthetic biology itself has developed and (iii) how notions of RRI/RI described in the literature have come to be understood by a group of scientists engaged in synthetic biology and its constituent disciplines. This work has been conducted in the context of progressing a ‘Responsible Innovation’ strand of work, cutting across the project’s other research areas in synthetic biology, microbiology, biochemistry, computer science and modelling.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Taylor K, Woods S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: New Genetics and Society

Year: 2020

Volume: 39

Issue: 2

Pages: 127-147

Online publication date: 27/01/2020

Acceptance date: 19/11/2019

Date deposited: 26/11/2019

ISSN (print): 1463-6778

ISSN (electronic): 1469-9915

Publisher: Taylor and Francis


DOI: 10.1080/14636778.2019.1709431


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