James C. Philp

Potential future applications and a growing new bioeconomy are bringing issues with research infrastructure, IP, and other areas to the fore.


Synthetic biology has attracted the attention of the OECD for various reasons. Above all, the OECD is an organization involved with economics, and in its societal applications synthetic biology is currently contributing very little but it has the potential to grow enormously. In such cases, the OECD can become involved to see if there are barriers to growth that can be removed at governmental level, or if there are societal risks involved that need further regulation. Very often both removal of barriers and further regulation are relevant.

The OECD book Emerging Policy Issues in Synthetic Biology, published in June 2014, looks at both the promise of synthetic biology and the potential pitfalls. Hence it examines the current and potential future applications, with a significant emphasis on the growth of a new bioeconomy, and then looks at policy-related issues in some detail: research infrastructure; investment patterns; intellectual property issues; and governance and regulation. It then investigates governmental policies, those in existence in various countries, and how policy might develop in the future. The current work on synthetic biology underway at the OECD is more firmly focused on the bioeconomy, and specifically biobased production. This work will be published toward the end of 2014.

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James C. Philp ([email protected]) is a policy analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Paris, France.

Industrial Biotechnology, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., is a peer-reviewed bimonthly research journal focused on biobased industrial and environmental products and processes. The above article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Industrial Biotechnology with the title “Emerging Policy Issues in Synthetic Biology”. The views expressed here are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of Industrial Biotechnology journal, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, or their affiliates. No endorsement of any entity or technology is implied.

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