From ‘Field of Concern’ to ‘Exemplary Field’: Synthetic Biology Biosecurity History

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Sara Angeli Aguiton

Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, France

Synthetic biology articulates a surprising diversity of actors : life-scientists, computer-scientists, engineers, social-scientists, venture capitalist, but also biohackers and FBI agents. An early and major concern raised by the emerging field was the risk of bioterrorism. My research is looking at the making of the relationship among academic scientists, entrepreneurs, professional scientific association, public administration, do-it-yourself biologists and FBI agents, associated with a common interest to deal with biosecurity risk. I propose to explore how members of synthetic biology community went to engage with the FBI Weapon of Mass Destruction Bioterrorism Prevention Program. This study, based on ethnographic observations and interviews, will show how the fight against terrorist threat got connected to the opportunity for synthetic/DIY biologists to structure their field and project. I will first examine how the government engaged in countering bioterrorism in post 9/11 USA, and how it framed its relation to life-science and amateurs communities. Then, I will trace the specific risks which fall under the concern of US security institutions and scientists, the targeting of synthetic biology as a “field of concern” and the concrete making of a “risk-oriented” relationships among scientists, gene synthesis companies, DIYbio members and FBI agents. The aim of this poster is to provide to members of the synthetic biology community an insightful and critical description of the various interests at stake in biosecurity.