The rapid pace of change in the biosciences makes setting biotechnology policies and regulating the life sciences difficult for governments, but no less necessary for that. Although government policies around the globe are sometimes classed as ‘pro-science’ or ‘anti-science’, that is a misleading oversimplification. Nurturing the ‘bioeconomy’ is a key goal for most national governments, leading in the UK to a comparatively loose regulatory policy, for example in relation to mitochondrial transfer and germline genetic modification. But in genetic patenting, a recent US court decision has reversed the trend towards privatisation of the human genome, which many scientists perceived as impeding their research. Opposition to permissive regulatory policies thus often comes not only from civic or religious groups, but also from within bioscience itself. In the area of vaccination against infectious disease, governments face an additional challenge from pandemics at the same time that financial austerity has prompted cutbacks in public health funding.

The article following on from this abstract is forthcoming in the Encyclopedia of the Life Sciences.