Grande perspectiva de pesquisas para o Design Inteligente: 20 emergentes questões em engenharia biológica

segunda-feira, fevereiro 12, 2018

Point of View: A transatlantic perspective on 20 emerging issues in biological engineering

Bonnie C Wintle Christian R Boehm Catherine Rhodes Jennifer C Molloy Piers Millett Laura Adam Rainer Breitling Rob Carlson Rocco Casagrande Malcolm Dando Robert Doubleday Eric Drexler Brett Edwards Tom Ellis Nicholas G Evans Richard Hammond Jim Haseloff Linda Kahl Todd Kuiken Benjamin R Lichman Colette A Matthewman Johnathan A Napier Seán S ÓhÉigeartaigh Nicola J Patron Edward Perello Philip Shapira Joyce Tait Eriko Takano William J Sutherland

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Germany University of Oxford, United Kingdom University of Washington, United States University of Manchester, United Kingdom Bioeconomy Capital, United States Gryphon Scientific, United States University of Bradford, United Kingdom University of Bath, United Kingdom Imperial College London, United Kingdom University of Massachusetts, United States Cambridge Consultants Limited, United Kingdom BioBricks Foundation, United States North Carolina State University, United States John Innes Centre, United Kingdom Rothamsted Research, United Kingdom The Earlham Institute, United Kingdom Desktop Genetics, United Kingdom Georgia Institute of Technology, United States University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom 


Source/Fonte: AICHE


Advances in biological engineering are likely to have substantial impacts on global society. To explore these potential impacts we ran a horizon scanning exercise to capture a range of perspectives on the opportunities and risks presented by biological engineering. We first identified 70 potential issues, and then used an iterative process to prioritise 20 issues that we considered to be emerging, to have potential global impact, and to be relatively unknown outside the field of biological engineering. The issues identified may be of interest to researchers, businesses and policy makers in sectors such as health, energy, agriculture and the environment.


Biological engineering is the application of ideas and techniques from engineering to biological systems, often with the goal of addressing 'real-world' problems. Recent advances in synthetic biology, notably in gene-editing techniques, have substantially increased our capabilities for biological engineering, as have advances in areas such as information technology and robotics. Keeping track of the challenges and opportunities created by such advances requires a systematic approach to gathering, assessing and prioritising them. Horizon scanning offers one way of filtering diverse sources of information to seek weak signals that, when contextualised, indicate an issue is emerging (Amanatidou et al., 2012; Saritas and Smith, 2011). Horizon scanning can also highlight a range of developments in their early stages, thus helping researchers, businesses and policy-makers to plan for the future.

Forward-looking exercises of this type bring together people from different fields to explore the possible implications of one field of study on another. For example, after identifying that very few conservation practitioners had even heard of synthetic biology in 2012, scientists from both disciplines convened in 2013 to explore how synthetic biology and conservation would shape the future of nature (Redford et al., 2013). In the same year, a horizon scan of emerging issues of interest to the conservation community (Sutherland et al., 2014) flagged the use of gene-editing to control invasive species or disease vectors. Since then, CRISPR/Cas9 approaches to controlling disease-carrying mosquitos (Adelman and Tu, 2016) and invasive species (Esvelt et al., 2014) have rapidly gained traction. This is not to suggest that such developments or applications are a product of being previously raised in horizon scanning activities, but that bringing an issue to the attention of the community early – before it becomes well known – allows sufficient time to develop strategies for researching or managing the potential risks and opportunities accompanying these innovations.

As with any attempt to anticipate future trends, we acknowledge that the more speculative projections may not come to pass. Some technological hurdles may never be cleared, unexpected breakthroughs may change the direction of research, and some directions may be deemed too risky to pursue. We also recognise that providing a snapshot of such a broad range of issues comes at the expense of depth, so here we attempt only to provide a digestible summary and launching point for others to further explore those issues that may be relevant to them. For each issue outlined here, we aim to summarize possible implications for society, including questions, risks and opportunities.

How might an exercise such as this prove useful in the future? Outputs of similarly structured horizon scanning activities in Antarctic science (Kennicutt et al., 2014) have underpinned roadmaps outlining the enabling technologies, access to the region, logistics and infrastructure, and international cooperation (Kennicutt et al., 2016) required to “deliver the science”. These have since been used to guide investment of national programs (National Academies, 2015). Similarly, the Natural Environment Research Council in the UK has drawn on annual horizon scans in conservation (see, for example, Sutherland et al., 2014) to inform their strategic planning. While a single horizon scan is only a first step in navigating the way forward (ideally, it would be followed with further exercises to map out how an agency might act in light of the information), we hope that the output of this scan may also be a useful starting point for developing policy designs.

Prioritising a set of issues for attention is an inherently subjective process, and reflects the perspectives and experiences of the people carrying out the assessment, as well as the dynamics of the group. This underscores the importance of bringing together a group that represents a wide range of perspectives. The main strength of this exercise is that the issues are systematically and democratically canvassed and prioritised by a relatively diverse group using structured elicitation and aggregation methods designed to mitigate some social psychological biases (Burgman, 2015), rather than reflecting the perspective of a single expert. Although we have attempted to capture an assortment of backgrounds, expertise, agendas and demographics (including age, gender and career stage), we acknowledge that this article presents the perspectives of researchers based in the UK and US.