Computer generated image of CRISPR system for editing, regulating and targeting genomes.

Pop-Up Research Lab to explore 'Brave New Law' in tackling biotech

27 August 2018
With recent biotechnology breakthroughs bringing scientists closer than ever to engineering human genes, lawyers and policy makers need to take their own 'giant leap' to keep up, says a University of Sydney sociologist.

Dr Sonja Van Wichelen is leading a three-week discussion on the legal and social implications of advances in biotechnology, starting today. Her Biolegality Pop-Up Research Lab brings together anthropologists, sociologists, legal scholars, historians, cultural theorists and political philosophers from around the world.

“From gene therapies to curing diseases to organ transplant aided by cryopreservation, revolutionary biotechnologies have attracted significant hype for their potential to improve the human condition – but their growing application raises legal and ethical questions that can only be answered with the help of humanities and social sciences research,” says Dr Van Wichelen, director of the University’s Biopolitics of Science Research Network and 2018 Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) fellow.

With technology evolving faster than our legal systems, it is time to discuss the use of these techniques before they go before the courts.
Dr Sonja Van Wichelen

“Australian regulators, in particular, need to work out how to put suitable regulations in place to protect human rights without inhibiting the scientific advances possible in this country.”

At the Pop-Up Lab, experts from Australia, Asia, Europe and the US will explore how new biotechnologies trouble foundational legal principles of personality, personal rights, humanity, property, parenthood, and community.  

“In the three decades since the Human Genome Project determined the sequence of genes that make up human DNA, we have witnessed profound debates on how these new technologies are redefining society, politics, and legalities,” said Dr Van Wichelen.

In a series of workshops, roundtables, master classes and panel events, participants will discuss:

  • controversies in the biosciences (stem cell research, reproductive technologies, organ transplantation);
  • fundamental problems in law (forensic DNA, genetic parenthood, intellectual property); and
  • citizenship (immigration, genetic ancestry, disability).

For more information on individual events please visit the Pop-Up Lab website.

The Pop-Up Lab is an initiative of the University’s Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC).


Based in the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC) aims to advance landmark interdisciplinary research in the humanities and social sciences and beyond. Visit the website to find out more about upcoming events, schemes, fellowships, projects and more. 

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Media and PR Adviser (Humanities)

Charlotte Moore

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Humanities)

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