Science integration: responsible advancement of synthetic biology

April 12th, 2021

Combining the natural and social sciences when planning and conducting research in synthetic biology is an important step towards responsible science.

The integration of science disciplines provides a more complete picture of how scientific innovations might manifest in broader society. This ‘science integration’ also provides opportunities to engage with a wider range of perspectives, which can shape the way science problems are defined and their solutions planned.

How do we integrate?

Integration across the natural and social sciences needs much more than a commitment to those aspirational goals of “collaboration”. It requires creating and formalising actions to realise a common goal.

There are a range of ways to integrate science disciplines that can maximise their impact. Planning for the co-development of science impact pathways is one example. Co-authoring publications that integrate social science and natural science research is another. The co-design of tools is also important – in the Maximizing Impact Application Domain of the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (FSP), we have invited colleagues to co-design science communication tools for use in social research instruments.

For science integration to be successful, a cultural shift in how the social sciences are engaged in research collaborations might also be needed. The timing and quality of engagement, and whether all sciences are recognised as contributors of equal standing are just some of the factors that influence the success of science integration efforts.

Why is it so hard to do?

Researchers at the Ecosciences Precinct, BrisbaneThere are many hurdles that can make science integration challenging in applied science organisations. For example, divergent views about what types of knowledge should be included in science decision-making and how that knowledge is best captured can create tension among scientists.

Diverse perspectives about the goals of science engagement and what constitutes good engagement with non-scientists can also be a source of contention.

There are both practical and ethical challenges to making science integration work well. Balancing social considerations with technical innovation is necessary for the successful adoption of synthetic biology innovations in society. The responsible advancement of synthetic biology solutions is a great incentive to embedding science integration into research programs.

Finding more ways to integrate

Across CSIRO, and specifically within the Synthetic Biology and Responsible Innovation FSPs, there are many individual researchers and research teams working on this very problem – how to better integrate a range of sciences to improve overall science and technology impact (see a recently published paper: Carter & Mankad, 2021).

While science integration can be challenging, it is a critical part of the research, development and implementation process across many fields of science. Stepping out of traditional and comfortable ways of working, and creating real steps towards science integration, will better enable scientists to set the foundations for success.

Formalising these steps during the research planning phase may better facilitate responsible science and its adoption, especially when the science challenges being addressed can have wide-ranging social, cultural and ethical impacts.


Relevant links:

Carter & Mankad (2021). The Promises and Realities of Integration in Synthetic Biology: A View From Social Science. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.

Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform