Responsible Research and Innovation in synthetic biology

With its claim to construct living organisms, synthetic biology raised a lot of heads within the science community. Public interest, however, has remained low. An international team of experts, working within the EU funded project SYNENERGENE, has set out to change that.

Synthetic biology aims at constructing living organisms from scratch. It wants to re-program existing organisms, using standardized genetic building blocks. This could lead to the construction of organisms with entirely new properties. The approach promises to deliver new applications, for example in the area of pharmaceuticals. If it works, biological science could be transformed following true engineering principles, creating “products” efficiently and in a well-planned way.

Different expert bodies have commented on both ethical aspects and risks associated with this field of research. From a science policy perspective, the main question is how the development of synthetic biology might be shaped to meet the requirements for Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).

SYNENERGENE picked up on this very issue. The project, executed as part of the EU’s 7th framework program (under ‘science and society’), aimed at stimulating the publics’ interest in synthetic biology through various participatory methods. By drawing from a wider range of perspectives, it wanted to add on to existing pools of knowledge that help shape technologies responsibly. To do so, stakeholders from industry, science and civil society were brought into a dialogue.

The ITA’s task was to comparatively analyse different forms of dialogue. Such dialogues took place in the context of exhibitions, film festivals or science cafés, for example. The ITA’s analyses showed that lively controversies develop within the framework of this invited participation, especially when diverse normative positions are represented in the citizens’ panels and the participants are able to actively shape the framing of the concrete issue at stake.



  • Bauer, A., Bogner, A., & Torgersen, H. (2016). Capturing the Public Imagination: Input to SYNENERGENE Agendas. Third report for the EU-FP7 project SYNENERGENE. doi:/10.1553/ita-pb
  • Torgersen, H., & Bogner, A. (2016). Problematizing New Technology. Making Sense of Synthetic Biology. (C. Scherz, Michalek, T., Hennen, L., Hebáková, L., Hahn, J., & Seitz, S., Eds.), The Next Horizon of Technology Assessment. Proceedings from the PACITA 2015 Conference in Berlin. Prague: Technology Centre ASCR. Retrieved from
  • Bauer, A., Bogner, A., & Torgersen, H. (2015). Capturing the Public Imagination: In-depth Analysis of Participatory SYNENERGENE Actions. Second interim report for the EU-FP7 project SYNENERGENE. doi:/10.1553/ita-pb
  • Bogner, A., & Torgersen, H. (2015). Different ways of problematising biotechnology – and what it means for technology governance. Public Understanding Of Science, 24, 516-532; first published (online) on June 24, 2014. doi:10.1177/0963662514539074
  • Bogner, A., & Torgersen, H. (2014). Emerging Technologies and the Interpretative Turn in Technology Assessment. Teorija In Praksa, 51, 726-741. Retrieved from
  • Bogner, A., & Torgersen, H. (2014). Capturing the Public Imagination: In-depth analysis of participatory SYNENERGENE Actions. First interim report for the EU-FP7 project SYNENERGENE. doi:/10.1553/ita-pb
  • Riedlinger, D. (2013). Forschungspolitisch mitreden. Ita-Newsfeed. Retrieved from
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Conference Papers/Speeches

Conference Papers/Speeches

  • 18/09/2018 , Klagenfurt
    Alexander Bogner,  Daniela Fuchs,  Anja Bauer: 
    If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail: Technology bias in invited participation on emerging technologies
    2nd STS Austria Conference – Innovation and Societal Transformation: Science, Democracy, and Sustainable Futures
  • 13/10/2016 , Bergen
    Alexander Bogner,  Anja Bauer: 
    Early engagement for RRI in synthetic biology: Experiences from SYNENERGENE
    S.Net Conference
  • 03/06/2015 , Lausanne
    Alexander Bogner: 
    A better way of engaging? Invited participation in science and technology
    Kongress der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Soziologie
  • 25/02/2015 , Berlin
    Alexander Bogner: 
    What’s the Problem with Upstream Engagement? The Case of Synthetic Biology
    2. Europäische TA-Konferenz
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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme FP7-SCIENCE-IN-SOCIETY-2012-1 under grant agreement n° 321488. Any opinions expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Community.
("Synthetic biology - Engaging with New and Emerging Science and Technology in Re-sponsible Governance of the Science and Society Relationship")


06/2013 - 06/2017

Project team