Synthetic Biology in India: Issues in Risk, Power and Governance

Abstract: Synthetic biology is an emerging technology that can facilitate ‘design’ and ‘creation’ of micro-organisms which may not be found in nature. Synthetic biology is considered as an amalgamation of principles of engineering and biology. Globally synthetic biology has advanced rapidly in the last decade; however, in India it is in nascent stages. In this discussion paper, the status of synthetic biology in India and debates in India on synthetic biology are discussed and the discourses on synthetic biology in India are also analysed. While synthetic biology is yet to get a big push in India, initiatives on biofuels and setting up of research centers indicate that it can grow rapidly in India. The Task Force set up by the Planning Commission examined the various issues including regulatory issues and suggested a way forward for synthetic biology in India. The concerns about dual use, absence of governance structures and need for regulation are not unique to India. Given the potential of synthetic biology in biomedicine, agriculture, energy and other sectors it is important that synthetic biology gets the priority it deserves. The paper also examines the potential pathways for synthetic biology in India and points out that adequate support in terms of funding and addressing regulatory, ethical, legal and social issues is necessary to reap the benefits of synthetic biology. 

Keywords: Synthetic biology, genetic engineering, dual use, twelfth five year plan, governance, intellectual property rights, risk discourse