Annual Debate 2018: Synthetic Biology

The Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BF, United Kingdom
+44 (0)20 7434 4479 EXT 211

EVENING MEETING 18:00–19:00 Thursday 19 April 2018

DNA test tube
Image © Shutterstock

In association with the London Evolutionary Research Network (LERN). 

Recent technological advances are allowing scientists to redesign organisms or even build new life forms from scratch. This new developing area of research steps beyond traditional Genetic Modification (GM), to combine science and engineering in what is known as Synthetic Biology. 

Technologies such as CRISPR-Cas are already allowing us to apply GM to a wide range of fields, from pest control to human genome editing. But these potential practical applications are huge, such as bioengineered micromachines/microorganisms that can destroy cancer cells, detect toxic chemicals or produce drugs that are otherwise incredibly difficult to obtain from nature. 

Is society ready for this new discipline? Where should the limits be set? What are the benefits and the risks of these “by-design” organisms?


Dr Pablo Carbonell

Senior Staff Scientist at the SynBioChem Centre, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology Pablo Carbonell is a scientist at the University of Manchester’s Synthetic Biology Research Centre, a publically–funded centre that aims to develop novel biomaterials, antibiotics and agricultural chemicals. 

His research interests are in automated design for metabolic engineering and applying the principles of machine learning and control engineering to sustainable biological design. He completed his PhD in control engineering at the Universitat Politècnica de València.

Prof Jim Dunwell

Professor of Plant Biotechnology at the University of Reading

Jim Dunwell has been at the University of Reading since 1996. He is a member of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) that advises the UK government on the approval of genetically modified organisms

He has a strong research background in plant genetics and the development of transgenic plants, working in both academia and industry. He completed his PhD in plant physiology at the University of East Anglia.

Professor Robert Edwards

Head of Natural and Environmental Sciences, University of Newcastle

Robert Edwards is currently the head of the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Newcastle and the director of the Institute for Agri-Food Research and Innovation (IAFRI), which seeks to generate translational agricultural research between academia and industry. He was previously chief scientist for the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA).

His research interests are focused on the metabolism of herbicides in weeds, with the aim to improve this process using bioengineering. He completed his PhD in environmental toxicology at St Mary’s Hospital, University of London.

Dr Louise Horsfall

Senior Lecturer in Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh and EPSRC Early Career Fellow

Louise Horsfall completed a PhD in biochemistry at the Université de Liège and joined the University of Edinburgh after working as a research associate at the University of Leeds and the University of Glasgow. She is currently co-chair of the Bioengineering and Bioprocessing Section of the non-profit European Federation of Biotechnology.

Her research covers multiple areas in biotechnology and synthetic biology, including engineering bacteria to remove toxic metals from soil and increasing resource efficiency.

  • This event is free and open to all.
  • Registration is essential. Seats will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Doors will open at 17:30.
  • Tea will be served in the Library from 17:30 and the event will be followed by a wine reception.

Video Podcast