City Research Online

The Transnational Governance of Synthetic Biology: Scientific uncertainty, cross-borderness and the ’art’ of governance

Zhang, J., Marris, C. & Rose, N. (2011). The Transnational Governance of Synthetic Biology: Scientific uncertainty, cross-borderness and the ’art’ of governance (4). London: BIOS (Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society), ISSN 1759-0620.


This working paper summarises and appraises current thinking and proposals for the governance of synthetic biology. Considering that contemporary synthetic biology was only born around 2004, when the first international conference (SB1.0) was held, the extent of the literature already produced about the governance of this field is very extensive. Annex I lists 39 reports produced since 2004 by scientific, governmental and non-governmental organisations, and shows how activity in this field has increased rapidly in the last few years, with 28 reports published in just the last 3 years. Alongside this grey literature, there are also numerous articles published in academic journals by synthetic biologists, sociologists, legal scholars and philosophers. We have utilised this literature as a resource and particular attention has been paid to identifying the range of views expressed by different actors. This literature review is complemented by participant observation in synthetic biology laboratories, scientific meetings and policy forums in the UK, as members of the joint LSE-Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI). Additional fieldwork consisting of laboratory visits and interviews with scientists and policy makers was conducted in the UK (by Claire Marris), in China (by Joy Zhang) and in Japan (by Caitlin Cockerton and Susanna Finlay).

The report is organised as follows:
· Section 2 summarises current accounts of synthetic biology and explains how conflicting narratives occur in parallel.
· Sections 3 and 4 then elucidate the main sources of governance challenges exhibited by synthetic biology. Section 3 demonstrates that current concerns over synthetic biology mostly originate from two key features of synthetic biology: scientific uncertainty and cross-borderness. By examining the case of the US, the UK, China, Section 4 further illustrates both the inter-national divergences and the transnational interconnectedness that any governing attempts for synthetic
biology need to take into consideration.
· Section 5 discusses three key governance challenges that arise from these two features of synthetic biology: the salience of both knowing and non-knowing; the need for external accountability; and the fragmentation of social authorities.
· Section 6 outlines our proposal for the ‘art of governance’ to address these challenges.

Publication Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Additional Information: © Zhang, Marris and Rose, 2011
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
[thumbnail of Transnational Governance SynBio 2011.pdf]
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (489kB) | Preview


Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login