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Responsible Innovation in Practice

Strand Leader: Susan Molyneux-Hodgson

The Responsible Innovation in Practice theme aims to generate new, empirically grounded sociological perspectives on ideas of responsibility, accountability, and sustainability in the life and health sciences and industrial biotechnology. Researchers in this cluster explore emerging concepts, discourses and principles of responsible innovation, and their translation into actual practices across a variety of innovation contexts. Work in this theme examines notions and practices of responsible innovation as artefacts that are set to work, made sense of, contested and transformed by different stakeholders for a variety of purposes and often-conflicting interests. A key concern of this theme is the gradual adoption of responsible innovation ideas in the private sector, and the ways in which this affects corporate innovation and governance practices. Projects in this theme involve collaboration with life scientists, research labs, biotech companies, civil societal groups and governing bodies, and are designed to influence academic, public and regulatory debate and to inform innovation practices in both, the public and private research sector. We have advised various UK and European bodies, research councils and industry organisations. Current and ongoing research includes projects funded by Innovate UK, BBSRC and the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst, and the Wellcome Trust.

Understanding responsible innovation in practice: an analysis of the manufacture of renewable alternative chemicals

This project was launched in November 2017 as an independent side project of the Innovate-UK funded project ‘Manufacture of renewable alternative chemicals’ (ReAlChem). ReAlChem-Rinvestigates responsible research and innovation ideas in the context of UK industrial biotech. The project aims are threefold:

  • to assess different perspectives on notions of responsibility among diverse stakeholders
  • to understand key challenges experienced by the industrial biotechnology sector, especially in relation to the social dimensions of the bioeconomy
  • to understand how responsible innovation ideas are translated into actual practices
  • to contribute to the further development of responsible innovation practices 

To achieve these aims, we are conducting interviews with industry practitioners, policy actors and other key stakeholders, as well as documentary analysis and ethnographic research in biotech companies and research labs. Our project partners in the ReAlChem Project are four mid-size biotech companies: Green Biologics, DynamicExtration, BioExtraction, and Keit. However, we also interact with corporate staff and managers, scientists, regulators, industry bodies, funding bodies as well as civil societal organizations and NGOs from all over the UK. Findings from our project will be shared with participants and disseminated to relevant parties such as the UKRI (BBSRC, EPSRC, iUK), the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, the UK Industrial Biotech Leadership Forum and others.

ReAlChem-RI project website:

Project members:

Professor Susan Molyneux Hodgson (Principal Investigator)

Dr. Achim Rosemann (Lead Researcher)

Dr. Sally Atkinson (Research Associate) 

The DETOX Project

Project DETOX was launched in 2016 through the award of a 5-year Translation Grant through the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst (Innovate UK, BBSRC, EPSRC).

It is led from the Department of Biology at the University of York by Dr. Gavin H. Thomas with collaborators at the Universities of Nottingham, Sheffield, Exeter and Cambridge.

Working with industrial partners Lucite, Green Biologics, Ingenza and CPI, the team aim to understand the physiological changes that microbes use to enable survival when exposed to bio-manufacturing chemicals that are toxic to them. DETOX solutions will then provide engineered chassis strains for its key partners for use in bioproduction to yield higher final titres of product – a problem that currently limits the financial viability of some processes.

Co-investigator Professor Susan Molyneux-Hodgson and Research Associate Sally Atkinson from the University of Exeter are in charge of the Responsible Research and Innovation component of the project.

More information on the DETOX Project

Human Germ Line Gene Editing in Global Context: Challenges and Needs from a UK Perspective

This project examines responsible research practices in the field of human genome editing and has been conducted by Dr Achim Rosemann, with financial support from the Wellcome Trust and the Nuffield Council of Bioethics. The project was completed in January 2018, but publication activity for this project, and the development of follow-up research is in progress.

Project Overview:

The arrival of CRISPR-Cas9 technology has created new possibilities to introduce heritable changes in human gametes, zygotes, embryos and the human germ line. Research in this area is rapidly globalizing and is now conducted or planned in the UK, China, Sweden, the USA and various other countries.

This project has focused on the ethical, social, and regulatory issues that arise from the uptake of human germ line gene editing (HGE) research in a diverse international environment, that is characterized by differences in regulatory frameworks, human values and scientific, corporate and health care cultures.

The project examined challenges to human germ line editing in the following three areas:

1   The impact of international regulatory variation

2   The management of shared global risks

3   The realisation of responsible research collaborations.

The project aimed to address policy issues of relevance to scientists, government bodies, civil societal groups, professional organizations as well as medical institutions and corporations as well as informing public, policy and media debate on human germ line genome editing in the UK and internationally.

More information can be found here: