Dr. Megan J. Palmer is the Executive Director of Bio Policy & Leadership Initiatives at Stanford University. In this role, Dr. Palmer leads integrated research, teaching and engagement programs to explore how biological science and engineering is shaping our societies, and to guide innovation to serve public interests. Based in the Department of Bioengineering, where she is also an Adjunct Professor, she works closely both with groups across the university and with stakeholders in academia, government, industry and civil society around the world.

In addition to fostering broader efforts, Dr. Palmer leads a focus area in biosecurity in partnership with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford. Projects in this area examine how security is conceived and managed as biotechnology becomes increasingly accessible. Her current projects include assessing strategies for governing dual use research, analyzing the diffusion of safety and security norms and practices, and understanding the security implications of alternative technology design decisions.

Dr. Palmer has created and led many programs aimed at developing and promoting best practices and policies for the responsible development of bioengineering. She currently co-chairs the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Synthetic Biology and in a member of the Council of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium (EBRC). For the last ten years she has led programs in safety, security and social responsibility for the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, which in 2019 involved over 6000 students in 353 teams from 48 countries. She also founded and serves as Executive Director of the Synthetic Biology Leadership Excellence Accelerator Program (LEAP), an international fellowship program in biotechnology leadership. She advises and works with many other organizations on their strategies for the responsible development of bioengineering, including serving on the board of directors of Revive & Restore, a nonprofit organization advancing biotechnologies for conservation.

Previously, Megan was a Senior Research Scholar and William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), part of FSI, where she is now an affiliated researcher. She also spent five years as Deputy Director of Policy and Practices for the multi-university NSF Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc). She has previously held positions as a project scientist at the California Center for Quantitative Bioscience at the University of California Berkeley (where she was an affiliate of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs), and a postdoctoral scholar in the Bioengineering Department at Stanford University. Dr. Palmer received her Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from M.I.T. and a B.Sc.E. in Engineering Chemistry from Queen’s University, Canada.

Institute Affiliations

All Publications

  • Intended consequences statement CONSERVATION SCIENCE AND PRACTICE Phelan, R., Baumgartner, B., Brand, S., Brister, E., Burgiel, S. W., Charo, R., Coche, I., Cofrancesco, A., Delborne, J. A., Edwards, O., Fisher, J. P., Gaywood, M., Gordon, D. R., Howald, G., Hunter, M. E., Kareiva, P., Mankad, A., Marvier, M., Moseby, K., Newhouse, A. E., Novak, B. J., Ohrstrom, G., Olson, S., Palmer, M. J., Palumbi, S., Patterson, N., Pedrono, M., Pelegri, F., Rohwer, Y., Ryder, O. A., Saah, J., Scheller, R. M., Seddon, P. J., Shaffer, H., Shapiro, B., Sweeney, M., Tercek, M. R., Thizy, D., Tilt, W., Weber, M., Wegrzyn, R. D., Whitelaw, B., Winkler, M., Wodak, J., Zimring, M., Robbins, P. 2021

    View details for DOI 10.1111/csp2.371

    View details for Web of Science ID 000628887600001

  • Exploring the intersections of governance, constituencies, and risk in genetic interventions CONSERVATION SCIENCE AND PRACTICE Burgiel, S. W., Baumgartner, B., Brister, E., Fisher, J., Gordon, D. R., Novak, B., Palmer, M. J., Seddon, P. J., Weber, M. 2021

    View details for DOI 10.1111/csp2.380

    View details for Web of Science ID 000622417200001

  • Conservation science and the ethos of restraint CONSERVATION SCIENCE AND PRACTICE Brister, E., Holbrook, J., Palmer, M. J. 2021

    View details for DOI 10.1111/csp2.381

    View details for Web of Science ID 000619848200001

  • The CRISPR revolution and its potential impact on global health security. Pathogens and global health Watters, K. E., Kirkpatrick, J., Palmer, M. J., Koblentz, G. D. 2021: 1–13


    Global health security is constantly under threat from infectious diseases. Despite advances in biotechnology that have improved diagnosis and treatment of such diseases, delays in detecting outbreaks and the lack of countermeasures for some biological agents continue to pose severe challenges to global health security. In this review, we describe some of the challenges facing global health security and how genome editing technologies can help overcome them. We provide specific examples of how the genome-editing tool CRISPR is being used to develop new tools to characterize pathogenic agents, diagnose infectious disease, and develop vaccines and therapeutics to mitigate the effects of an outbreak. The article also discusses some of the challenges associated with genome-editing technologies and the efforts that scientists are undertaking to mitigate them. Overall, CRISPR and genome-editing technologies are poised to have a significant positive influence on global health security over the years to come.

    View details for DOI 10.1080/20477724.2021.1880202

    View details for PubMedID 33590814

  • Bioengineering horizon scan 2020. eLife Kemp, L., Adam, L., Boehm, C. R., Breitling, R., Casagrande, R., Dando, M., Djikeng, A., Evans, N. G., Hammond, R., Hills, K., Holt, L. A., Kuiken, T., Markotic, A., Millett, P., Napier, J. A., Nelson, C., OhEigeartaigh, S. S., Osbourn, A., Palmer, M., Patron, N. J., Perello, E., Piyawattanametha, W., Restrepo-Schild, V., Rios-Rojas, C., Rhodes, C., Roessing, A., Scott, D., Shapira, P., Simuntala, C., Smith, R. D., Sundaram, L. S., Takano, E., Uttmark, G., Wintle, B., Zahra, N. B., Sutherland, W. J. 2020; 9


    Horizon scanning is intended to identify the opportunities and threats associated with technological, regulatory and social change. In 2017 some of the present authors conducted a horizon scan for bioengineering (Wintle et al., 2017). Here we report the results of a new horizon scan that is based on inputs from a larger and more international group of 38 participants. The final list of 20 issues includes topics spanning from the political (the regulation of genomic data, increased philanthropic funding and malicious uses of neurochemicals) to the environmental (crops for changing climates and agricultural gene drives). The early identification of such issues is relevant to researchers, policy-makers and the wider public.

    View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.54489

    View details for PubMedID 32479263

  • Learning to deal with dual use. Science (New York, N.Y.) Palmer, M. J. 2020

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.abb1466

    View details for PubMedID 32108087

  • Embrace experimentation in biosecurity governance. Science (New York, N.Y.) Evans, S. W., Beal, J. n., Berger, K. n., Bleijs, D. A., Cagnetti, A. n., Ceroni, F. n., Epstein, G. L., Garcia-Reyero, N. n., Gillum, D. R., Harkess, G. n., Hillson, N. J., Hogervorst, P. A., Jordan, J. L., Lacroix, G. n., Moritz, R. n., ÓhÉigeartaigh, S. S., Palmer, M. J., van Passel, M. W. 2020; 368 (6487): 138–40

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.aba2932

    View details for PubMedID 32273459

  • Multi-cellular engineered living systems: building a community around responsible research on emergence. Biofabrication Sample, M. n., Boulicault, M. n., Allen, C. n., Bashir, R. n., Hyun, I. n., Levis, M. n., Lowenthal, C. n., Mertz, D. n., Montserrat, N. n., Palmer, M. J., Saha, K. n., Zartman, J. n. 2019


    Ranging from miniaturized biological robots to organoids, Multi-Cellular Engineered Living Systems (M-CELS) pose complex ethical and societal challenges. Some of these challenges, such as how to best distribute risks and benefits, are likely to arise in the development of any new technology. Other challenges arise specifically because of the particular characteristics of M-CELS. For example, as an engineered living system becomes increasingly complex, it may provoke societal debate about its moral considerability, perhaps necessitating protection from harm or recognition of positive moral and legal rights, particularly if derived from cells of human origin. The use of emergence-based principles in M-CELS development may also create unique challenges, making the technology difficult to fully control or predict in the laboratory as well as in applied medical or environmental settings. In response to these challenges, we argue that the M-CELS community has an obligation to systematically address the ethical and societal aspects of research and to seek input from and accountability to a broad range of stakeholders and publics. As a newly developing field, M-CELS has a significant opportunity to integrate ethically responsible norms and standards into its research and development practices from the start. With the aim of seizing this opportunity, we identify two general kinds of salient ethical issues arising from M-CELS research, and then present a set of commitments to and strategies for addressing these issues. If adopted, these commitments and strategies would help define M-CELS as not only an innovative field, but also as a model for responsible research and engineering.

    View details for DOI 10.1088/1758-5090/ab268c

    View details for PubMedID 31158828

  • Anomaly handling and the politics of gene drives JOURNAL OF RESPONSIBLE INNOVATION Evans, S., Palmer, M. J. 2018; 5: S223–S242
  • Considerations for the governance of gene drive organisms PATHOGENS AND GLOBAL HEALTH Rudenko, L., Palmer, M. J., Oye, K. 2018; 112 (4): 162–81


    Governance is a broader and more flexible concept than statute-driven regulations as it incorporates components outside the latter's remit. Considerations of governance are critical in the development of emerging biotechnologies such as gene drive organisms. These have been proposed or are being developed to address public and environmental health issues not addressed easily by conventional means. Here, we consider how the concept of governance differs from statute-driven regulation with reference to the role each may play in the development of gene drive organisms. First, we discuss existing statute-based regulatory systems. Second, we consider whether novel risks or different concerns derive from gene drive organisms, concentrating on characteristics that contribute to public health or environmental risk and uncertainties that may affect risk perceptions. Third, we consider public engagement, outlining how existing statute-driven regulatory systems and other governance mechanisms may provide opportunities for constructive interactions. Finally, we provide some observations that may help address science- and values-based concerns in a governance space larger than that of statute-driven regulatory systems.

    View details for PubMedID 29975593

  • Challenges and recommendations for epigenomics in precision health NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY Carter, A. C., Chang, H. Y., Church, G., Dombkowski, A., Ecker, J. R., Gil, E., Giresi, P. G., Greely, H., Greenleaf, W. J., Hacohen, N., He, C., Hill, D., Ko, J., Kohane, I., Kundaje, A., Palmer, M., Snyder, M. P., Tung, J., Urban, A., Vidal, M., Wong, W. 2017; 35 (12): 1128–32

    View details for PubMedID 29220033

  • Rethinking biosecurity ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Palmer, M. J. 2017; 33 (2): 13
  • On Defining Global Catastrophic Biological Risks. Health security Palmer, M. J., Tiu, B. C., Weissenbach, A. S., Relman, D. A. 2017; 15 (4): 347–48

    View details for DOI 10.1089/hs.2017.0057

    View details for PubMedID 28737976

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5576069

  • Dealing with dual use: Risk governance in synthetic biology Palmer, M. AMER CHEMICAL SOC. 2016
  • SCIENCE GOVERNANCE. A more systematic approach to biological risk. Science Palmer, M. J., Fukuyama, F., Relman, D. A. 2015; 350 (6267): 1471-1473

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.aad8849

    View details for PubMedID 26680180