Commercializing Synthetic Biology: Responsible Innovation and Societal Challenges-Case Studies in the U.K., and China

  • Xiao Liang

Student thesis: Master of Philosophy


A responsible, sustainable and ethical approach to innovation has been demanded in industries, especially in emerging technology areas such as synthetic biology (SynBio) wherein undefined potential issues exist. Responsible innovation has been promoted as a potential response among policymakers, researchers and companies. However, few frameworks of responsible innovation have been investigated on a company management level. Additionally, the scope of responsible innovation may be wider in commercial practice than in theory, including cooperation and social responsibility, for example. The nature and the technological base of synthetic biology make these frameworks less practical and more debatable at the management level, not only because the working definition of synthetic biology itself is debatable but also because the regulations of the societal aspects of synthetic biology are vague. How to implement responsible innovation in synthetic biology commercialisation is therefore still unclear. This MPhil thesis seeks to provide a deeper understanding and investigation of the approaches that companies have applied to embed the concept of responsible innovation in synthetic biology commercialisation in the UK and China. Qualitative methods will mainly be employed in this study. First, an overview of the synthetic biology landscapes of both countries will be presented based on the landscape interviews. Then, semi-structured, in-depth interviews will be conducted to gain a deep understanding of responsible innovation and its role in commercialisation of the synthetic biology industry. The data will be collected from synthetic biology companies located across the two countries: UK and PR China. These two countries have been chosen as representative of different jurisdictions, innovation systems and public mentality. The original contribution of this thesis is that, firstly, it offers a previously under-explored perspective on responsibility activities, addressing how different innovation systems shape firms' responsibility and top managers' contributions to mobilising and guiding responsibility activities within industrial settings. Thus, it adds to the existing RRI literature viewing responsibility from a top-down approach, and specifically in research settings instead of industrial ones. Secondly, the qualitative approach adopted by this study contributes a wealth of descriptive data and storytelling material regarding firms' responsibility behaviour, taking into account firms' macro external innovation ecosystem and micro internal environment. This in-depth approach also showcases the significance of training on a national level and on a firm level in the initiation and implementation of responsibility activities, which has yet to be sufficiently addressed by the literature.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPhilip Shapira (Supervisor) & Joseph Lampel (Supervisor)


  • Innovation
  • China
  • Synthetic Biology
  • UK

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