GREEN ISSUE: Synthetic biology is creating jobs and promising innovations, but critics say it's dangerous and lacks proper safeguards
Dayaneni compared the new facility and industry to the short-sighted hubris of the nuclear industry before Japan's Fukushima disaster: "You don't build a nuclear power plant on the edge of the ring of fire and you don't build a synthetic biology laboratory on the edge of the ring of fire either."
Yet Keasling said he and his colleagues are far more aware of these issues and the need for safety and security than activists are giving them credit for. "The synthetic biology community is made up of people who are really concerned about the environment," Keasling told us.
But McClain said her case shows corporations will often disregard worker safety and environmental consequences in pursuit of profits, often with the complicity of scientists enamored by new discoveries. "There is a lack of integrity and leadership in our scientific leadership," she said, later adding, "The bottom line is we're giving the scientific community the right to self-regulate, but that comes with responsibility."
Keasling said he thinks there is a middle ground possible because "we're not against regulation, we believe in regulation, it's important, but it has to be sensible." He also defended the role that large energy and biotechnology corporations have played in funding this research and licensing the patented new technologies it produces.
"We live in a capitalist system, somebody has to fund this research and science," Keasling said. "The government doesn't have the money."