Team:Paris Saclay/Ethics




Our concerns

Synthetic Biology in itself is a great source of philosophical and ethical issues. We were concerned about the right to act on nature and especially to modify it. But we discovered that synthetic biology was not created fifteen or ten years ago, it is a very old concept. Indeed, in the last century, our ancestors used crosses between species in order to improve the quality of the food, to increase the yield or also to “create” organisms more resistant to diseases. Thus, the modification of living-being is not a current subject. However, with the technical support in laboratory, synthetic biology can now go further, upsetting already ambiguous definition as living-being. Thus, we were wondering how does synthetic biology blur the boundaries of living-being? What are the other lines of thought synthetic biology bring on the definition of life? How does synthetic biology change our definition of natural and artificial? We were also interesting in bioart and the message that bioart can raise. Reflection about the link between art and science was something new for all of us. This subject was found to be carrying multiple questions which can be linked to synthetic biology. What are the limits in using living-beings in regards to art? Can we use genetically modified organisms in an artistic goal?

How our project reflects our concerns

Our project reflects all the questions we were interesting in. We mimic, imitate the shape, odour, colours of a “natural lemon” with genetically modified bacteria. At first sight, our lemon and a “natural” lemon cannot be distinguished. However, can they be consider as identical? This aspect reveals the confused limits between natural and artificial, living-being or non-living being. Moreover, after further reflection, we can also emit the hypothesis that the “interior” of the lemon is the same: same taste, same nutritional quality. However, will you estimate it to be identical? Would you be ready to eat artificial food created and printed by a 3D printer? But is it really artificial? Finally, the use of bioart allow us to raise some questions about the concept of art, the link between art and science and to underline question as the right to use living organisms and to modify them for an artistical purpose.

How did we explore these questions?

We explored these questions through essay, survey, discussion and also interviews. Answers to these questions come from reflection of the team as well as external persons. We tried to ask as many person as we can, coming from very diverse backgrounds (ethicists, scientists, sociologists, artists and designers). The philosophical and historical traits were analysed in an essay that the team made. We pursued and improved the analysis of the living-being definition by developing the scientific, sociological and cultural aspects of it. One survey was carried out the international population of iGEMers as subjects in order to collect a maximum of point-of-views and we tried to find trends about the opinion of the iGEM community on these subjects. A debate with French iGEMers was also organised in order to deepen our reflection. Finally, because we chose a lemon to reflect our questionning, our team also explored the potential impact of synthetic biology on the food that will be eaten in the future.