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J Med Ethics. 2010 Nov;36(11):687-93. doi: 10.1136/jme.2010.038232. Epub 2010 Oct 8.

Synthetic biology and the ethics of knowledge.

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  • 1Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Synthetic biologists aim to generate biological organisms according to rational design principles. Their work may have many beneficial applications, but it also raises potentially serious ethical concerns. In this article, we consider what attention the discipline demands from bioethicists. We argue that the most important issue for ethicists to examine is the risk that knowledge from synthetic biology will be misused, for example, in biological terrorism or warfare. To adequately address this concern, bioethics will need to broaden its scope, contemplating not just the means by which scientific knowledge is produced, but also what kinds of knowledge should be sought and disseminated.

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