Bioethics Blogs

New Educational Module from the Bioethics Commission on Community Engagement in Synthetic Biology

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has posted to Bioethics.gov a new educational module on community engagement in the context of synthetic biology. The module integrates material from the Bioethics Commission’s report New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies (New Directions).

The aim of this module is to help instructors understand how community engagement can impact technological development and application of synthetic biology and other emerging technologies, as well as the importance of democratic deliberation for addressing the use of such technologies. The module identifies guiding ethical principles and describes how they promote engagement with the public and with affected communities.

Through discussion questions, scenarios, and exercises, the module guides instructors to help students consider the differences between public engagement, community engagement, and community-engaged research, and offers a timely example of the engagement process in synthetic biology. Illustrative examples that highlight potential benefits and challenges of community engagement include the production of algal biofuels, use of synthetic chemicals in consumer products, and development of drugs using synthetic biology techniques.

This module is the latest addition to the Bioethics Commission’s series of modules on community engagement, which includes background material and modules discussing community engagement in the contexts of human subjects research protection and privacy in whole genome sequencing. This module is also the first that the Bioethics Commission has developed based on its report New Directions.

All of the Bioethics Commission’s educational modules are based on ethical questions addressed by the Commission and provide instructors with foundational information, ethical analysis, discussion questions, problem-based learning scenarios, exercises, and additional resources to support ethics education and the integration of bioethical analysis into coursework across disciplines.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.