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Engineering Biology in Cambridge


The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) was created to accelerate the formation of a community of scholars and practitioners who, despite divides in geography and political culture, will create a common concept of responsible innovation for research, training and outreach. The Cambridge node of VIRI meet for a termly lunch to share updates on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) activities around the University.

Join the VIRI mailing list for updates and event information.



Members of the Cambridge VIRI node come from across:

                        • Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP)
                        • SynBio SRI
                        • OpenPlant
                        • Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) 
                        • Big Data SRI




VIRI Member Activities & Contacts


CSaP convene a network to provide fresh perspectives and critical challenges to conventional thinking. The CSaP Policy Fellowship Scheme matches government and industry Fellows with academic counterparts to facilitate evidence-based policy making. CSaP also have a network of Associate Fellows who contribute to activities related to Science and Policy or RRI.

VIRI Contact: Nicky Buckley | |@CSciPol

SynBio SRI 

The Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative is engaged in policy work around the use of synthetic biology. Topics of interest include synthetic biology applications with important social and environmental implication such as gene drive systems and the role of open source technologies in increasing access to and democratisation of biotechnology. The Arsenic Biosensor Collaboration are currently the strongest example of RRI embedded in a Cambridge-based synthetic biology project and questions will also be raised for exploration through the establishment of a community laboratory for biology 'Biomakespace'.

VIRI Contact: Jenny Molloy | | @SynBioSRI


OpenPlant is a BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre, funded under the Synthetic Biology for Growth Programme. The aim of the centre is to create an open source toolkit for plant synthetic biology and the RRI component of this investigates the impact of openness on broad and international exchange of technologies with implications for innovation systems and capacity building. OpenPlant is also interested in the role of regulation in governing future plant biotechnology e.g. the Nagoya Protocol and public engagement in both schools and with adults.

VIRI Contact: Jenny Molloy | | @_OpenPlant

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) 

CSER's research focuses on the identification, management and mitigation of possible extreme and existential risks associated with human activity, so that we can reap the enormous benefits of technological progress, while safely navigating the potentially catastrophic pitfalls. They have a broad-reaching programme including responsible development, policy, governance and regulation in these areas. The associated Leverhulme Centre Future of Intelligence has a focus on AI and its long-term opportunities and impacts while CSER researchers also have expertise in biosecurity, horizon scanning, regulation of nuclear energy and more. 

VIRI Contact: Catherine Rhodes | | @CSERCambridge

Big Data SRI

The Big Data SRI has coordinated a seminar series and programme of activities around the Ethics of Big Data. This has included a wide range of topics from privacy and surveillance to health and policy research in Africa and linking patient records in hospitals. The Dementia Platforms UK project is an example of RRI embedded in a research programme, leading to publications such as 'Emerging Technologies for Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease: Innovating with Carewhich asks under which conditions emerging diagnostic technologies can be considered a responsible innovation. 

VIRI Contact: Richard Milne |


Other RRI-related Initiatives at University of Cambridge 

Science and Technology Studies (STS) Reading Group

The aim of the Science and Technology Studies (STS) reading and discussion group is to explore and develop concepts of “Responsible Innovation” (RI) in the light of different concepts of “Policy Change” and to apply them to ongoing debates on emerging technologies and their governance. The group meets twice a month on Wednesdays 12:30-14:00 at CSaP's office (10 Trumpington Street). For further information please contact Dr Alice Vadrot and see the CSaP webpage.

Latest VIRI and RRI News and Events

The Cambridge node of the Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) meet for a termly lunch to share updates on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) activities around the University. Bring your lunch and enjoy some stimulating conversation on responsible research and innovation!

The Cambridge node of the Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) meet for a termly lunch to share updates on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) activities around the University.

Human genome editing, 3D-printed replacement organs and artificial photosynthesis – the field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society. But as a new article out today highlights, these developments provide both opportunities and risks in the short and long term.

Julius Weitzdörfer will be outlining some ideas on responsible research and innovation and its relationship to chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear (CBRN) risks, in advance of a workshop he is holding with DEFRA.

Dr James Ajioka and Dr Orr Yarkoni are offering a Development i-Teams project for Easter Term 2017, exploring the potential of their new way of dyeing fabric using engineered microorganisms in India.

The Cambridge node of the Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) meet for a termly lunch to share updates on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) activities around the University. This month's focus in the role of RRI in the upcoming Global Challenges Research Fund calls.

Simon Trace, Author of "Rethink, Retool, Reboot: Technology As If People and Planet Mattered", and former CEO of Practical Action will discuss our relationship with technology and why it needs to change.

Science and Technology Committee launch an inquiry into genomics and genome-editing. The Committee welcomes written submissions by Friday 6 January 2017.

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology's Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (KIT-ITAS) invites invites biologists, computer and hardware engineers, lawyers, social scientists, artists and designers to a week-long retreat discussing the consequences of a democratized and decentralised use of genome editing in the near future.

Gene drives are systems that enable genes to spread rapidly within entire populations. They are powerful tools that potentially allow society to engineer evolution but, like many other human actions, carry social, legal, ethical and environmental implications. An interdisciplinary workshop in Cambridge convened to discuss these implications in the UK context.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has today published the first findings of its programme of work looking at the recent and potential impact of recent advances in genome editing such as the CRISPR-Cas9 system across many areas of biological research.