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Surprising Science

Needed: Regulatory Systems that Adapt to Change

How can governments better assess the risks of new technologies? And why was Japan so stringent on earthquake regulations and not on nuclear energy?

What’s the Latest Development?

Kenneth Oye, an expert in the way governments assess the potential risks posed by new technologies, promotes dialog between policymakers, scientists and other scholars on the best ways of regulating technologies such as synthetic biology and ubiquitous computing. He stresses that government officials should make regulatory systems that are designed to incorporate advances in knowledge.

What’s the Big Idea?

Here’s an example of why this is important. Participants in a synthetic biology workshop examined two versions of a bug designed to serve as an arsenic detector in groundwater in South Asia. One used a standard E. coli strain, and the other a genetically re-engineered “rE. coli”. “Everyone understood that the basic idea (of the genetic engineering) is to make the bug more exotic, to limit the likelihood of gene flow and make it safer. But the weirder the bug is, the more stringent the regulatory hurdles. The mismatch between regulatory templates and management of the bug was obvious.” 


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