Tag: synthetic biology

Bioethics News

New artificial species. Could they affect biodiversity?

An article was recently published in the blog Practical Ethics, defending the use of synthetic biology and gene editing to obtain new organisms that do not exist in nature. Its author argues that if biodiversity is valuable, then it should be promoted, adding new species instead of conserving it as it is.

Contrary to the commonly assumed idea that current levels are optimal, he says that global biodiversity has been deeply affected by the acts of humans, having lost countless species. Moreover, he denies that ecosystems are fragile and finely balanced units, arguing on one side that the interactions between organisms tend to undermine their stability and, on the other, that the introduction of a new species does not have a major biological impact, statements that seem contradictory.

Artificial species and biodiversity

The aforementioned article lacks references that support these novel views on biodiversity and ecosystems, which contrasts with what has so far been understood and observed from the biological and environmental sciences. Nevertheless, even if his statements were true, this does not lead to the conclusion that it is advisable to increase the present biodiversity by producing new artificial species.

Neither does it mention whether the species produced should be non-pathogenic, or whether the researchers should take into account the type of organisms produced, their number, place of release, evolution perspectives (never completely controllable), organisms with which they would interact, etc. We do not believe it necessary to explain why it would not be appropriate to introduce organisms into the natural environment without first taking into account these and other considerations.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Copenhagen Conference: Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene editing

Join us at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen on 20 November, 2017 to discuss Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing. CALL FOR PAPERS Emerging technologies in Synthetic Biology and Gene … Continue reading

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Interview with Arthur Caplan

by Kaitlynd Hiller and Rachel F. Bloom

It is a difficult task to succinctly describe the professional accomplishments of Arthur Caplan, PhD. For the uninitiated, Dr. Caplan is perhaps the most prominent voice in the conversation between bioethicists and the general public, as well as being a prolific writer and academic. He is currently the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and NYU School of Medicine, having founded the Division of Bioethics there in 2012. Additionally, he co-founded the NYU Sports and Society Program, where he currently serves as Dean, and heads the ethics program for NYU’s Global Institute for Public Health. Prior to joining NYU, he created the Center for Bioethics and Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, serving as the Sidney D. Caplan Professor of Bioethics. Dr. Caplan is a Hastings Center fellow, also holding fellowships at The New York Academy of Medicine, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American College of Legal Medicine. He received the lifetime achievement award of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities in 2016.

Dr. Caplan’s experience is not at all limited to the academic realm: he has served on numerous advisory counsels at the national and international level, and is an ethics advisor for organizations tackling issues from synthetic biology to world health to compassionate care. Dr. Caplan has been awarded the McGovern Medal of the American Medical Writers Association, the Franklin Award from the City of Philadelphia, the Patricia Price Browne Prize in Biomedical Ethics, the Public Service Award from the National Science Foundation, and the Rare Impact Award from the National Organization for Rare Disorders; he also holds seven honorary degrees.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Dear Mr. President: It’s Time for Your Bioethics Commission

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Last week, seven Democratic members of the U.S. House Representatives sent a letter to the White House asking President Trump to appoint a director to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), position that normally serves as the presidential science advisor. The impetus for writing the letter was a communication from the Deputy National Science Advisor that two hoax reports, that tried to undermine climate change, were circulating through the West Wing as “science.” The Congresspersons state “Where scientific policy is concerned, the White House should make use of the latest, most broadly-supported science…Relying on factual technical and scientific data has helped make America the greatest nation in the world.” Among the signers are a PhD in math and a PhD in physics. They hold that the U.S. faces strong questions that revolve around science, both opportunities and threats, and the need for a scientist who can understand and explain the importance of objective fact to the chief executive is essential.

This article led me to think that the U.S. also faces a lot of issues regarding health and medicine and their impact on society. Consider the task of creating a new health plan, CRISPR/CAS-9, in vitro gametogenesis, the threat of Zika, extra uterine gestational systems, legalized marijuana, digital medicine—pharmaceutical computing for treating disease, head transplants, and DYI science are among the bioethical issues that will effect policy in the coming few years. Thus, it is time for President Trump to call for his Presidential Bioethics Commission.

The last bioethics advisory body ended in January 2017, although many of the staff are still winding down the office and archiving the many reports and papers produced.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

All we like SHEEFs, Part 2

Carrying on with last week’s musings…

In thinking further, I think my attempt was confused by conflating the moral status of a SHEEF—a synthetic human entity with embryo-like features, something more than a clump of cells of human origin, but less than a human being—with reasons why I might want to hold that nobody should ever make certain sorts of SHEEFs.

Again, SHEEFs are human, not non-human.  But they may not command a “right to life” in every instance.

I would return to a statement I made last week, that any totipotent human entity, that is, any human entity capable of developing into a full human being under the right circumstances, should be accorded a full human right to life from the moment he or she comes into existence.  We other humans ought to give him or her a chance to live, care for him or her as one of us, grant him or her any research protections extended to human research subjects in general, and so on.  So-called human “embryos in a dish” would be in this group.

The same cannot be said for individual human cells, including human gametes formed from cells like induced pluripotent stem cells.  There may be arguments why those ought not to be produced, but that is for another time.

I would not say that a laboratory-created or sustained human heart, for example, ought to be protected from instrumental uses, including destruction for the research enterprise.  I think I would want to argue that we humans ought not make such a thing as part of a human-non-human animal hybrid, but again, that’s a different argument.  

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Synthetic life and biodiversity

Written by Dr Chris Gyngell

Last year, the first truly novel synthetic life form was created. The Minimal Cell created by the Venter Lab, contains the smallest genome of any known independent organism.[1] While the first synthetic microbe was created in 2010, that was simply a like for like synthetic copy of the genome of an existing bacterium.  Nothing like the Minimal Cell exists in nature.

This great advance in synthetic biology comes at a time where natural life forms are being manipulated in ways never seen before.  The CRISPR gene editing system has been used to create hulk-like dogs, malaria proof mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat and hornless cows. The list of CRISPR-altered animals grows by the month.

Such developments hasten the need for a systematic analysis of the ethics of creating new forms of life. In a recent paper[2], Julian Savulescu and I draw attention to how thoughts regarding the value of biodiversity may bear on this question.

The idea that biodiversity is valuable is ubiquitous. The United Nations “Convention on Biodiversity”, signed by over 160 countries, recognises the “intrinsic value of biological diversity”.[3]  The idea that biodiversity is valuable has also greatly influenced the commercial sector and is a cornerstone of the modern corporate social responsibility movement. The value of biodiversity has even been recognised by the Catholic Church. Pope Francis devotes an entire section of his Encyclical Letter, “On Care For Our Common Home” to the Loss of Biodiversity, describing a new Sin, the destruction of biological diversity.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Bold New Policies for The Brave New Biologies: IPRs and Innovation in Synthetic Biology and Gene editing

Research Seminar at the University of Copenhagen debating intellectual property and innovation in synthetic biology, systems biology & gene editing. New technologies in biology offer a brave new world of possibilities. Promising solutions to some of the most urgent challenges faced … Continue reading

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.

Bioethics News

Synthetic Biology: Enter the Living Machine

March 8, 2017

(Nature) – In 2000, two landmark papers started a revolution in our ability to design entirely new functions inside cells. The authors took two electronic circuits — an oscillator and a switch — and built the equivalent from living matter. Life became a machine. To many, including me, this was a profound moment: the beginning of the field of synthetic biology. Now an international enterprise with the potential to transform our lives, synthetic biology crosses age and organizational boundaries, and involves large corporations, small start-ups, academics and tinkerers. In Synthetic, talented science historian Sophia Roosth describes her observations of the field’s early evolution — the fruit of embedding herself in the working lives of synthetic biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

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.

Bioethics News

In an Engineered World, Who Benefits from Biological Diversity?

December 23, 2016

(The Guardian) – Synthetic biology is often described as the application of engineering principles to biology. Some see it a fundamentally new approach to biology; others as the next stage of biotechnology; and others as simply an exercise in rebranding. As social scientists researching this field, we’ve seen the confusion of synthetic biologists as to why a treaty about biodiversity is attempting to govern their research.

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.

Bioethics News

Xenobiology and environment

PDF-logoSynthetic biology and xenobiology could be great tools for improving the environment, but there must be a balance in which the pursuit of benefits for humans is combined with respect for nature and its laws.

On 15th May 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato si, in which he gave his views on the problem of environmental pollution that is devastating our planet, and how it affects not only nature, but ourselves, especially the most disadvantaged.

The problem of pollution, over-exploitation of resources and the global warming caused by these is being studied from different perspectives. One of these is the drive for research into new methods that can help us to obtain clean energy that will allow us to continue our development, obtain more resources for food and industry without depleting the planet, and methods for decontamination and repair of damaged ecosystems. Xenobiology could have a huge impact on all these projects in the future.

Xenobiology is a young discipline within synthetic biology that is at the forefront of some of the proposed projects. Xenobiology aims to add letters to the natural genetic alphabet to be able to obtain new words, and to write a story different the one told to us by nature. In the words of Floyd E. Romesberg, one of the principal investigators in the expansion of the genetic alphabet: “If you’re given more letters, you can invent new words, you can find new ways to use those words and you can probably tell more interesting stories” (Callaway, 2014).

A transformation of biology such as that envisaged by xenobiology still presents risks and certain ethical questions, but at the same time, it represents a new way to overcome our environmental problems.

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.