This life-changing, and potentially life-saving, tech demands careful innovation and regulation, says Trevor Maynard, head of innovation at Lloyd’s.

In 2017 the German Association for Synthetic Biology was founded to foster collaboration between synthetic biologists across Germany. Synthetic biology goes beyond traditional genetic modification and allows bio-engineers to actually design DNA.

It is exciting and has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of our daily lives. But it also requires responsible innovation.

It is important to ensure that progress continues in this area with a proper understanding of the risks and opportunities. Risk managers and insurers must carefully consider the potential for unknown and possibly systemic risks.


If past experience is anything to go by then it is likely the technology will be democratised more quickly than expected. While this fosters innovation, it also raises concerns around the dangers of bio-error (accidental release of harmful substances) and bio-terror (deliberate engineering of dangerous materials).

“Regulations inevitably lag behind new tech, but certainty around what is allowed is very important to give people the confidence to invest in the future.” - Trevor Maynard, head of innovation, Lloyd’s

The potential rewards in healthcare in particular – in terms of new therapies, genome editing, regenerative medicine and cognitive enhancement – are driving a lot of investment in this area. While many of these developments are at the laboratory or trial stage, we are also seeing some commercial applications. Further research and investment is important because it could save lives.


Another exciting development is the prospect of new and efficient ways of storing energy. We are seeing the development of new biofuels, such as petroleum replica products, to replace


Many challenges remain – synthetic biology approaches produce products that don’t fit within current regulatory frameworks – but these efforts are vitally important, particularly if countries are to adapt to a low-carbon economy.

Synthetic biology does herald a new lease of life and it is likely to become an increasingly important innovation to watch carefully over the coming years.

Regulations inevitably lag behind new technology, but certainty around what is allowed and what is not allowed is very important to give people the confidence to invest in the future. A better understanding of the risks that go along with synthetic biology will be critical to future success.