ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY

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14, Mar 2021

Q&A with Jacqueline Dalziell

Jacqueline Dalziell has joined Wendy Rogers at Macquarie University as one of our latest Centre recruits.

Tell us about your academic background

My undergraduate studies were in Sociology and Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. I then completed Honours in Sociology, and went on to complete my doctorate in Sociology at the University of New South Wales. Before being appointed to the Philosophy faculty at Macquarie University on the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology project, I was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UNSW producing feminist science studies research on the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology grant.  

I see myself as a sociologist. A sociologist studies social life, the social determinants of human behaviour, and the relationship between the individual and the social. My research combines insights from the canon of sociology (the original texts which forged the discipline) with contemporary sociological conversations. My work is informed by feminist theory, bioethics, continental philosophy, psychoanalytic thought, and sociology of science. Whilgrounded in social theory, I am invested in interdisciplinarity. This term refers to a way of working across disciplinary lines, such as that dividing the natural from the social sciences. I find that one’s perspective can be broadened and complicated through the inclusion of other disciplinary perspectives, which interdisciplinary research allows for. For instance, my recent research with the Centre of Excellence on Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology brought feminist theoretical insights to bear on the growth of placental tissue within the laboratory. This emerging technology raises a host of bioethical questions, many of which disproportionately affect women, as well as being fascinating from a sociological perspective. This research is still ongoing.  

What attracted you to the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology?  

There are many things that piqued my curiosity in the Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology. I am intrigued by the relationships between the natural and social sciences; what in 1959 the chemist and novelist C.P. Snow termed the ‘two cultures’ problem. I genuinely enjoy working with natural scientists, and talking to them about how they understand their research. I find these conversations enrich my own outlook, allowing me to think differently. Specifically, I’m excited about synthetic biology research, and I’m hopeful that some of it will be put to work toward environmental ends. I’m also interested in how some of the scientific practices of synthetic biology – such as the creation of synthetic organisms – might offer us the opportunity to revise how we consider much larger, sociological questions, such as what it means to be human, and how we relate to the natural world. Lastly, as with any new biotechnological advance, there are questions regarding the ethical underpinning of synthetic biology and its applications, which I’m looking forward to exploring. What ethical issues are at stake in synthetic biology, and who will or won’t benefit from its progress? 

When telling friends about synbio and its potential, how do you describe it?

I tell them about the Mycoplasma mycoides synthetic bacterium, as that is sufficiently fascinating for uber-nerds such as myself.    

What are your hopes for your research? 

My position is to work with Chief Investigator Professor Wendy Rogers: we’re interested in what kind of values drive the research within the Centre and how ethical challenges are identified and addressed. In this work, we’ll be interviewing and working closely with the scientists in order to figure out these questions. In addition, we’ll also be investigating the underlying bioethical questions inherent to synthetic biology more broadly, and within the Centre in particular. Synthetic biology raises certain ethical issues: such as the status of synthetic organisms, the justifiability of genetic engineering, and the environmental ramifications of synthetic biology. For instance, how should we manage the risk of synthetic organisms escaping into the environment? As our research evolves, we’ll be developing both philosophical and practical responses to some of these dilemmas, advancing knowledge within synthetic biology and its study by social scientists. 

And now something people may not know about you. Any special interests?  

I like cocktails, contemporary dance and ballet, architecture and Freud.