August 2021 Webinar: Synthetic Biology in the Maximising Impact Application Domain

August 31st, 2021

Watch the August Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform Webinar featuring Michelle Rourke and Dr Lucy Carter.

This webinar was presented in August 2021 as part of the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBio FSP) Seminar Series. This webinar covers work in the Maximising Impact Application Domain.

Regular webinars offer information about the latest work from SynBio FSP including funded projects, the work of CSIRO-University Fellows and SynBioFSP PhD students.

Webinar program

Dr Aditi Mankad, Application Domain Leader, Maximising Impact, welcomed participants, acknowledged the Traditional Owners and introduced the speakers:

Michelle Rourke, PhD, CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Research Fellow, Law Futures Centre, Griffith University spoke about the Nagoya Protocol on Accessing Genetic Resources – Some Challenges for Synthetic Biology Research.

Dr Lucy Carter, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO Land & Water spoke about public engagement in synthetic biology: What’s possible and how do we get there?

View on CSIRO’s Vimeo channel

View the transcript

Full biographies and abstracts

Michelle Rourke, PhD, CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Research Fellow, Law Futures Centre, Griffith University


Michelle Rourke is a CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Research Fellow at Griffith University’s Law Futures Centre where she researches the global regulation of access to genetic resources for the Australian synthetic biology community. Michelle was a virologist in the Australian Army for ten years, researching the intra-host genetic variation and evolution of dengue virus and Ross River virus. She completed her doctoral studies at Griffith Law School and as a Fulbright Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. Her thesis examined how international access and benefit-sharing (ABS) laws under the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol impact access to virus samples and associated genetic sequence data. Michelle is a non-resident Affiliate of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical School and a 2020-2021 Johns Hopkins Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative (ELBI) Fellow.


Under the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Nagoya Protocol, countries can regulate access to their genetic resources, requiring that scientists obtain prior informed consent and agree to certain terms about the use of those genetic resources in research and development. These terms can include the sharing of benefits like access to raw data, shared authorship in research publications, providing laboratory equipment or training to scientists in the country of origin, agreeing to milestone payments or sharing profits from any resulting products. This is a legal mechanism known as “access and benefit-sharing” (ABS), and it was originally designed to regulate genetic resources in their physical forms. The advent of synthetic biology has highlighted the shortcomings of the ABS mechanism. This presentation examines how the CBD and Nagoya Protocol are ill-equipped to deal with modern scientific practice that increasingly relies on genetic sequence data from open access databases. Determining the country of origin of a genetic resource and the value that each resource contributes to R&D is difficult when those resources are now both physical and digital, are fragmented, modified and spliced together with elements from other genetic resources. For synthetic biologists, complying with ABS laws can be fraught.

Dr Lucy Carter, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO Land & Water


Lucy Carter uses her background in bioethics and social science to address complex problems in agriculture, health and biosecurity. As a member of the Maximizing Impact Application Domain of the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform, she helps to design and facilitate stakeholder engagement processes with diverse stakeholders to include diverse perspectives in science decision-making. Her research interests include interrogating equity and power in international development settings, and applied ethics in novel technologies.


Globally, the synthetic biology research community is working hard to engage diverse stakeholders, publics, and communities to understand the broad range of concerns and needs of these groups in considering innovation. The bulk of engagement effort has so far been driven by research organizations and their programs, at times in partnership with philanthropy, government and industry. While aspirations of downstream public ‘dialogue’ are laudable, they remain difficult to achieve given the multiple constraints and legacies that science partnerships need to overcome. This paper describes the gap between the synbio community’s public engagement goals (nationally and globally) and what is possible within the boundaries of applied science institutions. The goal of this presentation is to begin articulating responsible pathways for future science planning, within the boundaries we operate. The audience is invited to share their ideas during and after the presentation.