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Our bioethics team is worked on researching the potential socio-economic, environmental, and safety concerns of iGEM projects.

Some of the bioethics team visiting the lab space to discuss and see ongoing research which was part of how we helped to bridge understanding between the disciplines of science and humanities.
From left to right, Matthew Waldron, Manuel Avalos, both undergraduate humanities students on the team,
and Ethics Advisor Professor Sandra Dreisbach
Not pictured are our Philosophy post-grad James Sutter and undergraduate humanities researcher Breeann Macdonald

Overview of Bioethics Team Work

The bioethics team examined the ethical dimensions of our iGem research project. Throughout the process undergraduate ethics students and the faculty ethics advisor worked as a part of the iGem team and discussed with the team ongoing ethical nuances of the project. This allowed our team to not just look at the ethical goals of the research but also to have an interdisciplinary perspective of the work throughout the development process from start to finish. Unlike typical ethical assessments where ethics is a judgment of the research after the fact, our ethical work was a part of conducting the research itself.

Bioethics Team work at UCSC Meetup

Part of the goal of the bioethics team was to help engage the larger iGem community in the ethical issues involved in their research and with the larger values involved with undergraduate research and iGem. As a part of addressing this we hosted several guest talks around ethics at our meetup including presentations by Lynn Rothchild, David Bernick and Rebecca DuBois. We also engaged everyone in the meetup in discussing ethical concerns raised after the talks with an ethics panel discussion with featured guest lecturers and faculty ethics advisor Sandra Dreisbach. Student iGem particpants posed engaging questions to the panel and an open discussion of ethical issues in their research and iGem took place. We also asked student participants to participate in anonymous survey inquiring on how they felt about ethics and synthetic biology in general and the ethical value of their research in particular. Some of the results of these surveys are discussed in Matthew Waldron's research article summarized below

Ethics Discussion Group with both Bioethics Team and Lab Team

In order to help facilitate in depth discussion of the ethical issues involved in the research and explore ideas as they came up we formulated a special Ethics Discussion Group where representative members of our lab team and our bioethics team got together and shared both laboratory research and ethical research through slide presentations and general discussion. We learned alot from each other about how our disciplines can work together to explore our common goal of not just ethical research but also iGem project aim to engineer a potential solution to climate change and the energy crisis.

Applied Ethics in Context

Another unique aspect to how the bioethics team was able to approach ethics in our iGem research project was to explore applied ethical questions in the context of the research itself. Bioethics team members and lab members visited the collection site for our lab samples key to the research which helped to understand part of the larger context of our work outside of a laboratory. Furthermore, bioethics team members visited the laboratory where the research was conducted to have a improve the understanding of the laboratory research involved in the context in which the work was done. The bioethics team then explored the larger iGem context as well as both the current and future environmental and socio-economic context of our team's work.

Lab Team Diversity and Ethics Survey

Not only did we perform an external survey of the greater iGem community participants in our meetup survey but we also conducted an internal survey focused on establishing the diversity of our iGem team and to discover the important ethical issues and concerns of our own team. As a team we discovered how much diversity was prized as a key value of our iGem team. It was also clear from our internal survey that the ethical concerns about environmental climate change and the need for renewable energy resources expressed in our laboratory research as a team was a true concern for all of our team members as individuals as well.

Bioethics Team Research Articles

Environment - Manuel Avalos Research Summary

This portion of our research presents an analysis of the intrinsic value of our environment. It is an essential part of the project because we aim to establish what motivates our research. What we discovered was that arguing for conservation efforts on the basis of instrumental value is inherently flawed. This is because the beauty and complexity of our environment cannot be substituted if lost, and therefore we conclude our environment does hold intrinsic value. Given this conclusion, we believe the research produced from our project is a vital and necessary step towards conservation efforts.

Socio-Economic - Breeann MacDonald Research Summary

One aspect of our ethical research revolves around the social, economic and political implications of our iGem project. Creating a biofuel that could make the U.S. energy independent will have vast effects on global politics due to its impact on the social and economic structure of energy production. To conduct our project ethically, we found that it was necessary to investigate these effects. These ethical investigations have provided guidance in how to pursue energy independence in a socially responsible way.

iGem Ethics Surveys - Matthew Waldron Research Summary

As an ethicist assisting a scientist, or anyone for that matter, the primary objective is to bring unity to or establish a relation between their actions (in this case scientific work) and the values or ends in which they cherish most. Therefore we saw it necessary to determine these core values via an anonymous questionnaire. The questions were created with the intention of revealing not only to us, but also to each participant taking the questionnaires, the full extent of their moral dimensions regarding their work.

(see Bioethics pull down tabs from home page for full articles)