accustomed to discussing similar ethical themes in different ways, and have dif6 For example, in the case of synthetic biology, many practicing cell biologists and microbiologists focus on the end product (“it looks like what we already do”) and not the engineers’ emphasis on the fact that the process to get there was different. Similarly, a bioengineer may publish a paper on developing a reproducible scalable process to promote cell-based production of a compound. In contrast, traditional biology is usually focused on understanding “how it works,” not “how do I use it to accomplish X?” Thus, even though responsible conduct across fields such as engineering and biology is likely to address common topics such as integrity, conflicts of interest, protection of propriety information, and decision-making consistent with public safety and welfare, the examples used to illustrate these concepts may differ.
Finally, the convergence of disciplines may pose challenges to the operation of regimes like the BWC and the CWC. New scientific developments might alter or expand the types of agents that could be of concern as biological or chemical weapons and/or might alter or expand the definitions of which molecules fall under the purview of both treaties. One possible role for the scientific community may be exploring and clarifying the technical issues surrounding these advances in chemistry and biology, to inform efforts to better define the nature and scope of the challenges they present. Ongoing scientific dialogue as well as the types of policy dialogues suggested by the OPCW advisory panel (OPCW, 2011b) might contribute to the consideration of the future challenges to both treaties posed by advances in S&T, including future threat agents and their methods of production.
Despite these potential challenges, the integration of diverse perspectives and the convergence of multiple disciplines in the life sciences remains an exciting trend. The model of convergence in the life sciences is one that may provide many creative new opportunities to address challenges across areas like health, energy, agriculture, and the environment.
6 Information from a workshop organized by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Woodrow Wilson Center on whether and how engineering ethics might inform the development of synthetic biology, for example, may be found at http://www.onlineethics.org/Topics/EmergingTech/TechEdu/SynBioWorkshop.aspx.