IntroductionOn Tuesday 17 January, the BBC Horizon programme focused on synthetic biology
Link to Playing God on BBC Two Horizon site >> The last line of this Horizon programme was "We have created for ourselves unprecedented power over life itself". This is a bold statement, and, if correct, it would have important consequences for the future of human society. But there were other, perhaps less bold, but still extremely interesting issues raised by the programme. For example, how easy it is really to extract a biological "part" which performs a specific function and put this into a new cell or animal? What does it mean when we say that we can create a cell "whose parent is a computer" or that organisms can now be thought of as "biological machines"? Is biology likely to become more democratic, or will the corporations highlighted producing biofuels become the significant players in this field? And more generally, what is the field of synthetic biology, and what separates it from genetic engineering, or from nanotechnology? These kinds of questions, along with others to do with governance, intellectual property rights and standardisation in synthetic biology, are all currently being addressed by researchers working across the ESRC Genomics Network.The Genomics Network is the largest concentration of social scientific research on genomics in the world and our research effort involves more than a hundred resident academics, together with an international cast of visiting academics, industry specialists and policymakers. to explore our work on synthetic biology, bioenergy and a wide range of life science related topics.