Towards enhanced biosafety and risk assessment standards in synthetic biology, a workshop in Heidelberg (Germany)

As part of Work Package 6 of BioRoboost, a workshop to look at technical and policy gaps in the use of and need for standards to improve risk assessment and enhance biosafety in synthetic biology was held 7-9 October 2019 in Heidelberg, Germany. This workshop, “Towards enhanced biosafety and risk assessment standards in synthetic biology”, was organized and moderated by Markus Schmidt and Lei Pei of Biofaction, and Michele Garfinkel from EMBO.

The workshop was focused on developing standards for biosafety, particularly in synthetic biology laboratories, and the working group included synthetic biology researchers, leadership from for-profit firms, biosafety professionals, policy experts, and representatives from the DIY community and from scientific publishing. Several of the participants are also part of the BioRoboost project. The discussions for each section were structured so as to focus the work on specific issues of concern. Short talks were followed by extensive discussion between and among the participants and the organizers so as to understand areas of agreement, disagreement, and policy gaps.

For example, one session was devoted to discussing in quite technical terms how safety-relevant data can be incorporated into synthetic biology standards, while another looked at the scope of stakeholders who are and will need to be involved in discussions about these issues. The final session was devoted to understanding how we might move generally toward more robust and efficient regulatory processes for synthetic biology.  The information and outputs from the workshop are currently being analysed; the detailed report will be completed in December 2019. The outcomes from the workshop will support another task in Work Package 6, the development of a biocontainment repository (a “one-stop shop”).

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