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Book chapter on ‘Taking Care’ in synthetic biology

evans-frow-1stpageSynthetic biology, from its early stages of development, has had an explicit focus on biosafety and biosecurity concerns. These concerns are being identified and addressed in different ways, including strategies that ‘take care of’ them by getting them off the mind, and approaches that attend to and ‘care for’ concerns in more open-ended ways. In this chapter, we look at the shaping of concerns and non-concerns relating to biosafety and biosecurity in two high-profile synthetic biology initiatives: the US-based Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc), and the international genetically engineered machine (iGEM) student competition. We identify a variety of examples and strategies by which actors within these initiatives are rendering safety and security concerns visible and invisible. We suggest that each reflects a particular, situated understanding of and approach to ‘taking care,’ with different implications for how the institutions, epistemic structures, practitioner identities, and objects of synthetic biology may develop. In these examples, we also strive to account for our own involvement as social scientists in the activities of Synberc and iGEM.

absence-coverThis chapter is part of a book that explores the absent and missing in debates about science and security. Through varied case studies, including biological and chemical weapons control, science journalism, nanotechnology research and neuroethics, the contributors explore how matters become absent, ignored or forgotten and the implications for ethics, policy and society.

Evans, Sam Weiss, and Emma K. Frow. 2015. “‘Taking Care’ in Synthetic Biology.” In Absence in Science, Security and Policy: From Research Agendas to Global Strategy, edited by Brian Rappert and Brian Balmer. Palgrave.