Friday, February 12, 2016

Trust in Synthetic Biology

The concept of trust with respect to synthetic biology has enormous economic importance. Lack of trust can cause people and governments to block an entire division of research, such as GMOs in some parts of the world. Similarly, synthetic biology related companies that have lost their reputation can have great difficulty releasing an honest product. Consider other products, such as an electronic device. Such products are often tested by unbiased individuals; the reviews generated by these unbiased individuals is trusted by the general public. By using such third-party reviewers, who share their testing methods openly, a product is able to gain trust on its own.

The review process for biological or chemical products is different. The processes of assessing safety and effectiveness of medicines, farm-related products, and various chemicals for every-day use are often hidden in publications that are normally difficult to understand by the users. Websites that target the general public often rely of vague concepts rather than specific facts. What if biologically engineered products had a review process that is open.

"Open" is not a matter of exposing the raw results of experiments. Open must allow other individuals to repeat the tests and contribute their results. Open must also mean that honest efforts have been made in order to make the information understandable by as many people as possible. Open access to scientific publications does not mean that the knowledge is open because those publications are generally written for domain experts. Further, publications do not guarantee that the experiments are reproducible. In order to address the problem presented in the first paragraph of this blog, open-science needs to invent a new method of sharing information.

Additionally, trust is often strengthened when both sides are involved. If customers of a product participate, even remotely, in the testing of the product, their trust, through a feeling of ownership, is likely to increase. For example, suppose some of the customers utilize open labs in order to conduct some of the verification experiments. It would cause the customers to feel a bit closer to the product.