I’m attending the Emerging Technologies conference in San Jose, California. Earlier today I gave a talk, Why study aging?, that was basically an (extensive) elaboration of the presentations I gave at BioCarCamp and Sci Foo last year (which was at some level an extension of a talk I gave to a completely non-technical audience earlier in 2008). My talk was reasonably well received, though not very well attended.

I’m realizing, however, that the conferees here are not very interested in biology, as opposed to non-bio “tech”. Exhibit A: I’m sitting here at Drew Endy‘s panel on synthetic biology — it’s in the biggest lecture hall but there are only about twice as many people in the audience as there were for my talk. I would have thought of Drew as a big draw; he’s a great speaker with a lot of interesting ideas.

The subject of the panel is the establshment of a legal framework for “open source” synthetic biology – akin to the Creative Commons licenses that increasingly govern sharing and reuse of content on the Web. The legal language (currently being presented by panelist Jennifer Lynch of UC Berkeley) is somewhat dry, but it’s very important to the future of synthetic biology as a field. Ideally, we’d like to see the field unencumbered by restrictions, with a “tool set” that is both standardized and freely accessible, so that the barrier to entry is low; at the same time, we’d like to preserve the ability of innovators to work outside the standards even if they are simultaneously using tools available to everyone.

So far they’re still working on the early draft versions of the equivalent of public licenses; it’s not clear what shape these efforts will take in the future. Still, these are early days for synthetic biology, so it’s nice to see that people are already devoting time and energy to create a durable legal framework for the field.