The Intelligent and Connected Bio-Labs of the Future: Promise and Peril in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

A vast array of technologies are rapidly developing and converging to fundamentally change how research is performed, and who is able to perform it. Gene editing, DNA synthesis, artificial intelligence, automation, cloud-computing, and others are all contributing to the growing intelligence and connectivity of laboratories. It is currently possible to perform a growing number of research tasks automatically and remotely with a few clicks of the mouse. And with the barriers of entry to synthetic biology tools like CRISPR decreasing, they will no doubt be subject to automation as well, and may even be coupled with artificial intelligence to optimize the power of genetic engineering. While this may be a boon for the development of novel vaccines and therapeutics by parties that have traditionally not had access to the necessary tools, it also opens the risk of nefarious use to engineer or edit biological agents or toxins. While there have been attempts at governance to limit the avenues by which a bad actor may gain access to the pathogens or tools to create biological weapons, the ever-increasing pace of innovation has left gaps that may be exploited. Fortunately, investment in technologies such as artificial intelligence and sequencing may also function as the best defense against the growing threat of misuse of biological agents. (READ MORE)



How to Optimize Human Biology:  Where Genome Editing and Artificial Intelligence Collide

Genome editing and artificial intelligence (AI) could revolutionize medicine in the United States and globally. Though neither are new technologies, the discovery of CRISPR in genome editing and advances in deep learning for AI could finally grant clinical utility to both. The medical use of these technologies individually could result in their eventual combined use, raising new and troubling ethical, legal, and social questions. If ongoing technical challenges can be overcome, will the convergence of AI and CRISPR result in practitioners ‘optimizing’ human health? And could viewing human biology as a machine result in a willingness to optimize biology for reasons other than health alone? Given the rapid technical progress and potential benefits of genome editing and AI, answering these questions will become more pressing in the near future. Such concerns apply not only to the United States, but to the international medical community. Notably, China has demonstrated its desire to be a global leader in both genomics and AI, which could indicate the potential of these technologies to converge in China soon. What form should the international governance of these technologies take and how will it be enforced? To ensure responsible progress of genomics and AI in combination, a balance must be struck between promoting innovation and responding to ethical, social, and moral quandaries. (READ MORE)

Beyond the Laboratory and Far Away: Immediate and Future Challenges in Governing the Bio-economy

Today’s bio-economy, where info-, nano-, and biotechnology converge, has the
potential to yield great advances in all sectors, including medicine and energy,
by using advanced modes of manufacturing at an atomic scale while achieving
reproducible results. This creative convergence sounds exciting, but scientific
advances and technological innovation do not come without some risks.
Policymakers need to adopt a critical perspective on governance approaches
regarding the bio-economy, keeping in mind how it affects our intricate
sociotechnical system, our regulatory cultures, and the evolving relationships
between researchers, funders, industry and the public. (Read more)

Film: Genome-Editing, Perils and Promises

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

How Our Unhealthy Cybersecurity Infrastructure Is Hurting Biotechnology

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)


Innovation Ecosystems: Stories from the Biological Frontier

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