The Paradigm Shift of Synthetic Biology: Tensions Between Innovation and Security

Prof. Arti K. Rai, JD

Duke University 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Theater, Coffman Memorial Union

View Video    Duration: 90 min

Synthetic biology aims to effect a paradigm shift in biology, changing it from a relatively high-cost, centralized endeavor to one that operates through cheap DNA synthesis and standardized parts. The most passionate synthetic biology proponents envision a future in which decentralized networks of small firms and individual inventors can cheaply "hack" (i.e. improve) standardized DNA parts in the same way that they currently hack computer code. The accelerated innovation potentially produced through decentralization and standardization could be extremely important for social welfare—end results could include, for example, low-cost, environmentally friendly fuels. On the other hand, decentralization may increase the potential for entry by actors with nefarious motives. The challenge for law and policy is two-fold: first, to determine whether more decentralized innovation will, in fact, increase security threats; and second, if so, to determine how tensions between accelerating innovation and maintaining security should be mediated.


Shaun Kennedy
Director, National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD)
Director of Partnerships & External Relations, College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Minnesota

Jordan Paradise, JD
Associate Director of Research & Education, Consortium and Joint Degree Program
Adjunct Associate Professor of Law
Research Associate in the Center for Bioethics
Faculty Editor-in-Chief of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology (MJLST) 
University of Minnesota

Continuing Legal Education credit (CLE) was approved (1.5 hours). 

Arti K. Rai

Arti K. Rai, JD, is the Elvin R. Latty Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law. She is an expert in patent law, innovation policy, and law and the biopharmaceutical industry. Her current research, funded by the NIH, focuses on intellectual property issues raised by collaborative R&D in areas ranging from synthetic biology to drug development.

Professor Rai joined the Duke Law faculty in 2003. In the winter of 2007, she was the Hieken Visiting Professor in Patent Law at Harvard Law School. In the fall of 2004, Rai was a Visiting Professor at Yale Law School. Prior to joining Duke, she was on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was also a visiting professor in Fall 2000. From 1997-2001, she was a faculty member at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Rai graduated from Harvard College, magna cum laude, with a BA in biochemistry and history (history and science), attended Harvard Medical School for the 1987-1988 academic year, and received her JD, cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1991. While in law school, she served as executive editor for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.