The view of synthetic biology in the field of ethics: a thematic systematic review

Kurtoğlu A., Yıldız A., Arda B.


  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 21
  • Publication Date: 2024
  • Doi Number: 10.3389/fbioe.2024.1397796
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, BIOSIS, Compendex, INSPEC, Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-16
  • Ankara University Affiliated: Yes


Synthetic biology is designing and creating biological tools and systems for useful purposes. It uses knowledge from biology, such as biotechnology, molecular biology, biophysics, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and other disciplines, such as engineering, mathematics, computer science, and electrical engineering. It is recognized as both a branch of science and technology. The scope of synthetic biology ranges from modifying existing organisms to gain new properties to creating a living organism from non-living components. Synthetic biology has many applications in important fields such as energy, chemistry, medicine, environment, agriculture, national security, and nanotechnology. The development of synthetic biology also raises ethical and social debates. This article aims to identify the place of ethics in synthetic biology. In this context, the theoretical ethical debates on synthetic biology from the 2000s to 2020, when the development of synthetic biology was relatively faster, were analyzed using the systematic review method. Based on the results of the analysis, the main ethical problems related to the field, problems that are likely to arise, and suggestions for solutions to these problems are included. The data collection phase of the study included a literature review conducted according to protocols, including planning, screening, selection and evaluation. The analysis and synthesis process was carried out in the next stage, and the main themes related to synthetic biology and ethics were identified. Searches were conducted in Web of Science, Scopus, PhilPapers and MEDLINE databases. Theoretical research articles and reviews published in peer-reviewed journals until the end of 2020 were included in the study. The language of publications was English. According to preliminary data, 1,453 publications were retrieved from the four databases. Considering the inclusion and exclusion criteria, 58 publications were analyzed in the study. Ethical debates on synthetic biology have been conducted on various issues. In this context, the ethical debates in this article were examined under five themes: the moral status of synthetic biology products, synthetic biology and the meaning of life, synthetic biology and metaphors, synthetic biology and knowledge, and expectations, concerns, and problem solving: risk versus caution.