From computer code to genetic code… From electronic circuits to genetic circuits… This is the age of Life Engineers who program bacteria just like we program a computer, using DNA, the “software of life”.

Eleonore Pauwels, Director of Biology Collectives, Senior Program Associate and Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, is intrigued by the speed at which this techno-science is developing. How do we we anticipate problems linked to biosafety, biosecurity and ownership of the tools that allow us to edit our genomes?

This fall television channel France 5 broadcast a film on Genomics and Synthetic Biology.

Biology 2.0 Engineering Life, Trailer


By Eleonore Pauwels

Published in Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2016,

In A Dangerous Master, Wendell Wallach, a scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, tells the story of modern society’s struggle to cope with technology’s complexity and uncertainty. In the course of telling this story, Wallach questions the terms of the social contract under which we as a society, predict, weigh, and manage the potential harms and benefits that result from the adoption of emerging technologies. In urgent prose, he argues that we need different epistemic, cultural, and political approaches to adequately assess emerging technologies’ risks and their broader social impacts. Wallach promotes public deliberation as one of these approaches, which provides citizens and experts the opportunity to distinguish the technological hype from the hope, the speculation from reality, and in so doing shape their technological futures.

There is a whiff of science fiction in Wallach’s prose—maybe more fiction than science. He envisions a future where autonomous robots, designer babies, homemade pathogenic organisms, and mindclones confront our hopes, fears, and inner conflicts…

Full Book Review

Review of: A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control, by Wendell Wallach. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2015, 336 pp.van-gogh-and-the-colors-of-the-night-13

Recent security breaches in the data of health care providers and governments point toward a larger problem for the biotechnology sector, which on average has been growing more than 10 percent per year over the past decade—much faster than the rest of the economy. Current cybersecurity policy, however, neglects the biotech industry, endangering not only the growth of business but also the infrastructure underpinning the future of life sciences. (Read More)


Through a series of filmed interviews featuring players across the ecosystem of the health and life sciences we seek to identify and begin to define the emerging biological innovation ecosystem that is most suitable for the creation of an open and inclusive bioeconomy.

The current landscape of the biotechnology industry has shifted from being occupied predominantly by universities and government agencies, to having myriad startups and entrepreneurs, facilitating the ascent of citizen and do-it-yourself (DIY) science. This change in the types of actors has emphasized research alongside innovation – but requires a larger paradigm shift in the biotechnology industry.

As part of a two day workshop, “Innovation Ecosystems in Genomics and Biology” on September 22-23, 2015, Eleonore Pauwels from The Wilson Center and Eri Gentry from The Institute for the Future brought together experts who represent a range of expertise in biology and genomics to examine what forces will help innovation grow, while expanding ethical, moral, financial, and legal codes to accommodate such a shift in the industry.

From producing novel biofuels to targeted therapeutics, biotechnology has captured the attention of not only the scientific community, but those seeking solutions to complex social challenges as well. As the foundation of the modern economy shifts to a reliance on economic activity fueled by research and innovation in the biosciences, a window of opportunity has emerged for nontraditional actors to institute new models for innovation, incentive, and intellectual property. Such models may include ideas such as independent publishing, crowdfunded research, socially driven innovation and “consumer biotech”.

While research has been moving outside of traditional spaces, there needs to be a way to facilitate the transition from research to market for a growing community of non-institutional actors. An innovation ecosystem is one that transforms knowledge into products, processes and services that fuel economic growth, creates employment and wealth, and generates significant improvements in a region’s standard of living. Sustaining an innovation economy means evolving, adapting, re-imagining, and re-inventing to create and utilize new ideas and information into both existing and novel products and services. In order for non-institutional actors to claim a space for change however, fundamental questions addressing the composition of such an innovation ecosystem need be identified. How do we develop a system, which includes both traditional and nontraditional actors, that is capable of producing innovation?

In addition to traditional commercial innovation, there also exists the potential to incorporate novel ways of producing socially driven innovation defined by transparency, ethical acceptance, sustainability, and socially desirable outcomes. Through a series of filmed interviews featuring players across the ecosystem of the health and life sciences we seek to identify and begin to define the emerging biological innovation ecosystem that is most suitable for the creation of an open and inclusive bioeconomy

Innovation Ecosystems: Eleonore Pauwels on How to Democratize Health Innovation

Innovation Ecosystems: Rhiju Das on how to use video games to create better medicines

Innovation Ecosystems: Matthew Markus on using synthetic biology to stop rhino poaching

Innovation Ecosystems: Lalitha Sundaram on using biosensors to detect arsenic contamination in water

Innovation Ecosystems: Greg Simon on better ways to fund pharmaceutical research

Innovation Ecosystems: Beth Kolko on the need for innovation pathways

Innovation Ecosystems: Benjamin Kline on the reproducibility and accessibility of science

As concerns over the Zika virus grow, health officials are considering a combination of traditional and experimental measures to address the threat.  Eleonore Pauwels, a senior program associate with the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program, describes the knowns and unknowns surrounding the virus. From citizen science to genetic engineering, she sorts through options available to those on the front lines of efforts to stop the spread. That’s the focus of this edition of  Wilson Center NOW. – See more at:


On February 23, Eleonore Pauwels was part of a panel moderated by Richard Harris from NPR and organized by New America Foundation and Slate Magazine.  The panel, which gathered experts from the Wilson Center, MIT, and Harvard, built on an interesting and thought-provoking perspective, how to “engineer disease away” with new genomics technologies. An interesting focus on how to engineer the genetic makeup of mosquitoes to prevent them from transmitting Zika.

Live Webcast:


by Eleonore Pauwels and Jim Dratwa

Published in Scientific American, December 10, 2015,

Kannapolis, North Carolina, is a desolate town, plagued by unemployment since the main employer, a textile mill, suddenly closed its doors eleven years ago. In the aftermath of this shutdown, an elderly billionaire, David Murdock, who is curious about longevity and its genetic secrets, turned an enormous piece of land into a lucrative biotech complex. Not so bad, you might think, to revive the local economy, but the new campus mostly employed highly skilled scientists from renowned universities, not Kannapolis.

To the Kannapolites, Murdock offered a deal: let me extract your DNA for research on personalized diagnostics and treatments and you will get a $10 Walmart gift card. Many residents took the deal, and handed over their biological materials for an unlimited time. Without the resources to pay for the expensive treatments and cutting-edge medicine that could come from their genetic material, ordinary residents of the town are unlikely ever to reap the benefits of supplying their blood, urine and personal information… Read More