Responsible innovation in synthetic biology in response to COVID-19: the role of data positionality

Koen Bruynseels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


Synthetic biology, as an engineering approach to biological systems, has the potential to disruptively innovate the development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Data accessibility and differences in data-usage capabilities are important factors in shaping this innovation landscape. In this paper, the data that underpin synthetic biology responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are analyzed as positional information goods—goods whose value depends on exclusivity. The positionality of biological data impacts the ability to guide innovations toward societally preferred goals. From both an ethical and economic point of view, positionality can lead to suboptimal as well as beneficial situations. When aiming for responsible innovation (i.e. embedding societal deliberation in the innovation process), it is important to consider hurdles and facilitators in data access and use. Central governance and knowledge commons provide routes to mitigate the negative effects of data positionality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-125
Number of pages9
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Data frictions
  • Knowledge commons
  • Pandemic
  • Positionality
  • Responsible innovation
  • Synthetic biology


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