Digitalization, genome editing and synthetic biology are presently leading to fundamental changes in the field of biotechnology. At the same time, international regulatory institutions have largely failed to adapt to those changes. This text evaluates the role of interests, knowledge and institutional factors for explaining nonadaptation, or ‘institutional drift’. Focusing on the domains of biosafety, biosecurity and genetic resources, the analysis highlights the explanatory power of knowledge and, to a lesser extent, interests, with institutional factors playing only a minor role. With global governance having to cope with profound changes in various technological fields, the text thus shows the broader importance of understanding the conditions under which international institutions do, or do not, adapt.
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