Bioethics is the study of ethical questions and problems within the field of biology.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (PCSBI) published a report in December 2010 regarding the ethical ramifications of synthetic biology. This report was requested by U.S. president Barack Obama in response to the announcement in May 2010 of the first self-replicating synthetic genome, belonging to the organism Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0.
iGEM teams are required to document their safety practices and the ethical implications of their projects.
Objections to synthetic biology
The term "synthetic biology" could almost be calculated to elicit a strongly negative response by anyone with a belief in the beauty of naturally evolved DNA.
- Ken Oye, Synbiosafe (2009)
According to the PCSBI, there were "...relatively few objections from religious or secular ethicists concerning the present status of the field". However, there are common concerns regarding the normal use (i.e. not abuses such as bioterrorism) that originate from both religious and secular philosophies. The phrase "playing god" is often used as a shorthand for decrying a particular experiment or procedure as being unnatural, and therefore unethical.
Secular objections to synthetic biology can be found in the "Deep Ecology" philosophy, which emphasizes the right to life of all living things without regard to their value to humanity. Intrinsic to this philosophy is opposition to humanity's current domination and control of Earth. Therefore, the efforts of synthetic biologists to finely control organisms (albeit simple single-celled organisms) represent the latest attack by humanity on Nature. It is doubtful any reconcilliation between scientists and deep ecologists could be made, given that a fundamental property of science is the testing and quantification of the natural world.
The tools of synthetic biology can be considered "dual-use" technologies, which can be used for both productive, useful applications, but also for weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, synthetic biology's potential to benefit humanity must be weighed against the potential development of bioweapons. The creation of such bioweapons may be simply the construction of a previously eradicated disease such as smallpox, increasing the lethality of existing diseases, or create entirely new diseases. A key consideration when weighing these possiblities is the ease with which someone could create a bioweapon. In the past, creating weaponized microbes such
- World Health Organisation
- Convention on Biological Diversity
- National Institute of Health
- American Biological Safety Association
- Centre for Disease Control
- Herfst S, Schrauwen EJ, Linster M, Chutinimitkul S, de Wit E, Munster VJ, Sorrell EM, Bestebroer TM, Burke DF, Smith DJ, Rimmelzwaan GF, Osterhaus AD, and Fouchier RA. . pmid:22723413.