Team:Rice/Bioethical Debate


The debate was held on June 21, 2016. The Rice iGEM team collaborated with the Rice University Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB) Girls’ BioScience STEM Initiative. Participants were presented with the following question for the debate: “Do the proposed benefits of applying synthetic biology to solve real-world problems outweigh the perceived costs and ethical concerns about genetic engineering?” The girls received various introductory reading materials about the topic before launching into the debate.


Economically disadvantaged girls attending high school in an underserved part of Houston come to Rice University each summer to participate in a series of STEM immersion experiences. Additionally, the program organizes college preparatory activities and exposes students to career paths in STEM. The bioethics debate organized by Rice iGEM was incorporated into these activities. More information on the IBB Girls STEM Initiative can be found here.

Selected Reading

Erik Parens, Josephine Johnston, and Jacob Moses, “Ethical Issues in Synthetic Biology: An Overview of the Debates,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, June 24, 2009. Available here
Linda MacDonald Glenn, “Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering and Transgenics,”, June 2004. Available here


  1. To critically examine the ethical and moral landscapes of synthetic biology.
  2. To reflect on the benefit and harm conferred by human activities.
  3. To assess various attitudes towards the controversies surrounding synbio applications designed to improve people's lives.



The debate participants presented well-reasoned arguments in support of and in opposition to synthetic biology research. Exposing these high schoolers to new, complex ideas sparked curiosity and interest among the participants. This excitement is essential to support our next generation of college undergraduates and researchers. Even if they decide not to pursue a STEM career, exposure to these controversial synthetic biology topics will prepare them to participate in in well-reasoned public discourse.

Participant Feedback

The girls filled out a survey at the end of the activity, and this is what they had to say: “This activity was very fun and engaging. There was lots of excitement and it got people to communicate with each other.” “Now I have more knowledge on what synthetic biology really is.” “Some parts [of the introductory reading materials] were confusing, but the activity helped me understand.” “It made me think about the considerations that go on [regarding] the human genome.” “I want to be able to experiment and find new innovations for humanity.” “The argument helped it to be more fun to learn.” “It was AMAZING! I had a LOT OF FUN!”