This is the introductory article to an issue of Synthetic Biology which addresses issues of public buy-in and acceptance of the science and ways of developing productive dialogue on the issues.
Synthetic biology (SynBio) is a global endeavour with research and development programs in many countries, and due (in part) to its multi-use characteristics it has potential to improve global health in the area of vaccine development, diagnostics, drug synthesis, and the detection and remediation of environmental toxins. However, SynBio will also concurrently require global governance. Here we present what we have learnt from the articles in this Special Issue, and the workshop we hosted in The Hague in February of 2012 on SynBio, global health, and global governance that generated many of the papers appearing here. Importantly we take the notion of ‘responsible research and innovation’ as a guiding perspective. In doing so our understanding of governance is one that shifts its focus from preventing risks and other potential negative implications, and instead is concerned with institutions and practices involved in the inclusive steering of science and technology towards socially desirable outcomes. We first provide a brief overview of the notion of global health, and SynBio’s relation to global health issues. The core of the paper explores some of the dynamics involved in fostering SynBio’s global health pursuits; paying particular attention to of intellectual property, incentives, and commercialization regimes. We then examines how DIYbio, Interactive Learning and Action, and road-mapping activities can be seen as positive and productive forms of governance that can lead to more inclusive SynBio global health research programs.