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Vanderbilt law professor gives input to first report from White House commission on bioethics

Nita Farahany

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its first report Thursday focusing on the emerging field of synthetic biology. Vanderbilt associate professor of law and philosophy Nita Farahany is on the bioethics commission.

Synthetic biology is research that combines elements of biology, engineering, genetics, chemistry, and computer science. Achievements in synthetic biology rely on artificially created DNA to create new biochemical systems or organisms with enhanced characteristics.

“This report comes after a comprehensive review and three open meetings of the commission, during which we heard from experts on the science, applications, risks and benefits of the emerging field of synthetic biology,” said Farahany. “We have issued recommendations to President Obama that reflect the consensus views of the commission. [rquote]The recommendations offer a measured approach that embraces scientific progress, but seeks to safeguard against potential risks of synthetic biology on an ongoing basis.[/rquote]”

The commission advises President Obama on legal, philosophical and social issues arising from the biosciences and suggests policies to ensure scientific research, health care delivery and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner.

Farahany is a leading expert in the intersection between law, philosophy and the biosciences, especially related to behavioral genetics and neuroscience. She is the editor and a contributor to The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law, which includes essays from experts in science, law, philosophy and policy on the emerging use of behavioral genetics and neuroscience in criminal law.

You can read a synopsis of the report on synthetic biology with links to the commission’s full report on