Abstract: Biotechnology is rapidly diffusing globally. Efficient methods for reading, writing, and editing genetic information, producing genetic diversity, and selecting for traits are becoming widely available. New communities of practice are gaining the power to act on timescales and geographies that fall outside current systems of oversight. Governments and scientific communities alike are struggling to respond appropriately.
Recent controversies have brought these issues to light: “gain-of-function” research may risk causing the very pandemics it aims to help mitigate; the development of “gene drives” may drastically alter ecosystems; and crowd-funded “CRISPR kits” are giving decentralized communities access to powerful new tools. Meanwhile, a series of accidents at the nation’s premier biological labs, and recent struggles in responses to Ebola and Zika are raising concerns about the capacity to respond to biological threats regardless of their cause – accidental, deliberate or naturally occurring. The lack of mechanisms to assess the benefits and risks of advances in biotechnology has prompted reactive and blunt policy solutions including scientific and government-lead research moratoriums.
This presentation will review recent developments and discuss improved strategies for preparing for emerging biological risks. It will highlight key needs and opportunities in leadership, oversight and learning to mature our institutions to tackle long-term governance challenges.
About the Speaker: Dr. Megan J. Palmer is a Senior Research Scholar and William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. She leads a research program focused on risk governance in biotechnology and other emerging technologies. Dr. Palmer is also an investigator of the multi-university Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc), where for the last 5 years she served as Deputy Director of its policy-related research program, and led projects in safety and security, property rights, and community organization and governance. She was previously a research scientist at the California Center for Quantitative Bioscience at UC Berkeley, and an affiliate of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs.
Dr. Palmer has created and led many programs aimed at developing and promoting best practices and policies for the responsible development of biotechnology. She founded and serves as Executive Director of the Synthetic Biology Leadership Excellence Accelerator Program (LEAP), an international fellowship program in responsible biotechnology leadership. She also leads programs in safety and responsible innovation for the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Dr. Palmer advises a diversity of organizations on their approach to policy issues in biotechnology, including serving on the board of the synthetic biology program of the Joint Genomics Institute (JGI)
Dr. Palmer holds a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT, and was a postdoctoral scholar in the Bioengineering Department at Stanford University, when she first became a CISAC affiliate. She received a B.Sc.E. in Engineering Chemistry from Queen’s University, Canada.