NSF says it cares about the “social and ethical dimensions of such research.” So who gets to say what synthetic cell research meets society’s approval?
I think creating a responsible US citizens panel is urgent.
As of now, the NSF plan is to “educate” the American people about synthetic cell development after selections are quietly made by insiders who we don’t know. This approach cannot remain unchallenged. Suzan Mazur, “America Needs a Citizens Panel on Ethics & Synthetic Cell Development” at Oscillations
She notes that Germany is taking a more proactive approach.
The big current controversy around CRISPR babies would seem to answer the question of what happens if we simply wait for events in these areas to overtake us:
He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist who claims he helped to produce the first people born with edited genomes — twin baby girls — appeared today at a gene-editing summit in Hong Kong to explain his experiment. He delivered his talk amid threats of legal action and mounting questions, from the scientific community and beyond, about the ethics of his work.
He had never before presented his work publicly, outside a handful of videos he posted on YouTube. Scientists welcomed the fact that he appeared at all — but his talk left many hungry for more answers, and still not completely certain that He’s claims are accurate.David Cyranoski, “CRISPR-baby scientist fails to satisfy critics” at Nature
At this point, it’s not about whether anyone approves or not, it’s not even clear who besides He Jiankui knows what is going on.
See also: “1st International Symposium on Building a Synthetic Cell,” Netherlands, August 28–29
Suzan Mazur on mechanobiology, the next level of understanding of the cell