Past Events

Synthetic Biology: challenges and opportunities for the UK

  1. Background
  2. Speaker Profiles
  3. Recommended Resources
  4. Background

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    Biochemical Society logo

      BioCentre logo


    Chemistry Centre, Burlington House, London

    This panel discussion and debate will explore the science and ethics of synthetic biology and what it means for the UK. For better or worse, synthetic biology is featuring more and more often in the media as scientists make new advances that attract headlines. News stories highlight some of the many ways in which synthetic biology could improve people’s lives – from bio–energy and chemicals all the way through to drug delivery and regenerative medicine. But increased media attention also raises important issues around ethics, regulation and public acceptance.

    In order to stimulate discussion and inspire clear thinking, this event will bring together senior members of the scientific community from industry and academia, along with policy makers with whom we can explore some of the questions and perceptions surrounding synthetic biology.

    The event will be hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry and is also being organised in collaboration with BioCentre, Biochemical Society and the University of Bristol.

    As well as an audience in London, the panel will take questions from an audience at the University of Bristol via a live video link, and will respond to followers’ questions on Twitter.

    The whole event will be webcast live and available to watch online.

    Chair (London): Dr Ehsan Masood – Editor, Research Fortnight

    Panel (London):

    • Helena Paul – Co–director, Econexus
    • Professor Robert Edwards – University of York and Chief Scientist, Food and Environment Research Agency
    • Daisy Ginsberg – Synthetic biology writer and commentator
    • Lionel Clarke – Chairman, UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group

    Chair (Bristol): Professor Dek Woolfson – University of Bristol

    WATCH this event:

    You can now watch the debate back at The Reaction.

    Synthetic biology debate screenshot













    Speaker Profiles


    Dr Ehsan Masood – Editor, Research Fortnight

    Dr Ehsan MasoodEhsan is a science writer, journalist and broadcaster. Since 2009 he has been Editor of Research Fortnight and also teaches a course in international science policy at Imperial College London. As well as writing for Prospect magazine, The Times, Guardian and Le Monde, he writes and presents programmes for BBC Radio.

    Panel (London): 

    Dr Lionel Clarke – Chairman, UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group

    Lionel ClarkLionel chairs a group of independent experts who have set out A Synthetic Biology Roadmap for the UK. Its recommendations include investing in multidisciplinary centres, an annual forum, and funding competitions to support the development of novel applications. It emphasises responsible research to support the UK taking an internationally leading role. Dr Clarke joined Shell in 1981 and has been responsible for planning and delivering strategic research programmes there for more than ten years.


    Professor Robert Edwards – University of York and Chief Scientist, Food and Environment Research Agency

    Prof Robert EdwardsProfessor Edwards is the Chief Scientist for FERA and a Chair in Crop Protection in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (University of York). His research focuses on countering herbicide resistance in weeds, wheat biotechnology and biorefining. His group have discovered two new classes of plant glutathione transferases and identified their roles in soy, wheat and maize herbicide metabolism.

    Daisy Ginsberg – Synthetic biology writer and commentator

    Daisy GinsbergAlexandra Daisy Ginsberg is a designer, artist and writer, interrogating science, technology and new roles for design in a biotech future. As Design Fellow on Synthetic Aesthetics, an NSF/EPSRC–funded project at Stanford University and the University of Edinburgh, she is curating an international programme researching synthetic biology, art and design, investigating how we might ‘design nature’.


    Helena Paul – Co–director, Econexus

    Helena PaulHelena is a co–director of EcoNexus, an organisation analysing developments in science and technology and their impacts on environment and society. She is also involved in the international negotiations of the UN Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change. Dr Paul is currently monitoring UK research on synthetic biology, including consultation with the public and the conduct of scientists in connection with scientific uncertainty.

    Chair (Bristol): 

    Professor Dek Woolfson – University of Bristol

    Prof Dek WoolfsonDek has been a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Bristol since 2005. His research group’s focus is the prediction and design of protein folds and their application in bionanotechnology and synthetic biology. In 2011 Professor Woolfson won the RSC Protein and Peptide Science group’s Medimmune Protein and Peptide Science award, which is awarded in recognition of excellence in any area of protein and peptide science.




    The audience were encouraged to Tweet during the event. The tweets have been Storified and can be viewed here.