Exploring the Impact of Tensions in Stakeholder Norms on Designing for Value Change: The Case of Biosafety in Industrial Biotechnology

Enrique Asin-Garcia*, Zoë Robaey, Linde F.C. Kampers, Vitor A.P. Martins dos Santos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Synthetic biologists design and engineer organisms for a better and more sustainable future. While the manifold prospects are encouraging, concerns about the uncertain risks of genome editing affect public opinion as well as local regulations. As a consequence, biosafety and associated concepts, such as the Safe-by-design framework and genetic safeguard technologies, have gained notoriety and occupy a central position in the conversation about genetically modified organisms. Yet, as regulatory interest and academic research in genetic safeguard technologies advance, the implementation in industrial biotechnology, a sector that is already employing engineered microorganisms, lags behind. The main goal of this work is to explore the utilization of genetic safeguard technologies for designing biosafety in industrial biotechnology. Based on our results, we posit that biosafety is a case of a changing value, by means of further specification of how to realize biosafety. Our investigation is inspired by the Value Sensitive Design framework, to investigate scientific and technological choices in their appropriate social context. Our findings discuss stakeholder norms for biosafety, reasonings about genetic safeguards, and how these impact the practice of designing for biosafety. We show that tensions between stakeholders occur at the level of norms, and that prior stakeholder alignment is crucial for value specification to happen in practice. Finally, we elaborate in different reasonings about genetic safeguards for biosafety and conclude that, in absence of a common multi-stakeholder effort, the differences in informal biosafety norms and the disparity in biosafety thinking could end up leading to design requirements for compliance instead of for safety.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Number of pages28
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2023


  • Biosafety
  • Genetic safeguards
  • Industrial biotechnology
  • Multistakeholder approach
  • Safe-by-design framework
  • Value sensitive design


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