Safety is a necessary principle of any lab project all over the world. Our team worked in laboratory classified as Level 1 of biosafety, which means that our experiments involve low risk of developing human diseases. In this lab we performed all wet lab experiments such as PCRs, transformations and DNA isolations. The only strains of bacteria that we have used were DH5α and BL21-DE3 strains of Escherichia coli – those are all nonpathogenic. We ordered genes synthesized as gene blocks from IDT DNA. This company, specialized in DNA synthesis, is constantly checking ordered samples’ quality in respect to biosafety and regulatory conformance; so that the procedure of production could be easily disrupted if biohazardous material is detected.
Each member of our team had some previous experience in working in a lab. Before the project’s start day, everybody had to read special safety protocol that describes how to work with different chemicals and with Genetically Modified Organisms, how to use protective equipment and what to do in case of emergency. Furthermore, the location of fire extinguishers, first aid kits and emergency showers in the laboratory were shown by our instructor.
Bacterial cells used during our project were maintained in the lab; they do not cause any risk to the environment. Bacteria transformed with our constructs were decontaminated before removal, either in our laboratory by adding an appropriate disinfectant, or by packaging for decontamination in the special autoclave.
,,A branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong’’ -this is one of the common ethic’s definition but there are many, many more, depend on the field of interest. Let’s focus on the field of biology and describe bioethics, which is- ,,a field of study concerned with the ethics and philosophical implications certain biological and medical procedures, technologies, and treatments, as organ transplants, genetic engineering, and care of terminally ill.’’ Working with genetically modified organisms (GMO) has a tendency to lead to difficult ethical issues in society. As we already know from our survey (you can see the results in HUMAN PRACTISE tab), people usually do not support the GMO. GMO may have significant benefits but also poses numerous questions and concerns. It generates important ethical question: ‘What is the right balance of risk and potential benefits?’.
Going back to ethics, working with living organism is always a controversial issue. Our work is a kind of intervention in nature. We not only use living beings but we also modify them, sometimes introducing molecules that can cause harmful effects or even lead to death. Is it an expression of the creative talent of humanity or does it challenge the dignity of life itself? There must be a balance between detriment to these organisms and the benefits for humanity. When you are working on mice people are more strict, they deny those kinds of experiments. But when it comes to bacteria, most of them are neutral.
To get more about ethics and its relation with our project we asked ourselves two questions.
1. What is the attitude to GMO in Poland?
In Poland GMO is mainly associated with the food products based on the GMO crops. Simultaneously, majority of respondents claim that this kind of food has a negative influence on human’s health.
As it’s presented in report of Kopernik Science Center, there is an acceptance for the use of GMOs for the production of drugs but according to genetic modification in the area of the animal world, there is a clear opposition. Two-thirds of responders would use the drug on the basis of GMOs to save his own life. More than a quarter of responders would use such a drug in order to improve the quality of life. Less than a fifth of responders would use such a drug as dietary supplement.
According to results published by CBOS (Public Opinion Research Center) from year 2013, we see that the majority of Poles (65%) claim that the cultivation of GMO should be banned. Most people are afraid of consequences of eating GMO food: new diseases and allergies (76%), uncontrolled genetic changes in humans (67%), uncontrolled intervention in nature (71%). But also, what seems be an essence of ethical problem, some of them (47%) thinks that this is an unacceptable intervention in the order established by God.
2. What kind of ethical issues could E.co Factory project have?
Taking under consideration the fact, that working with bacteria is more acceptable than working with vertebrates, our research should not be criticized. Actually, the main ethical issue can be associated with ,,playing in God’’. Some people, sometimes even scientists, are convinced that genetic engineering and creating GMOs are wrong because it is the interference into the natural, divine order. To some extend it is true, we interfere with nature, but we don’t do it for fun! We do it in the name of science. To find new solutions, options and technologies that will help people. So that’s why we are responsible for raising public awareness, for telling them the truth about synthetic biology and GMO, telling about advantages and disadvantages.