Team:Paris Bettencourt/Human Practice/Interview


iGEM Paris Bettencourt 2012




To talk with experts in different domains in order to orient our human practice.

[NB: These interviews were done in French]



Professor MAMZER-BRUNEEL, MD.PhD. , is currently a doctor at Necker Hospital in the kidney transplantation department. Furthemore, she is president of the "Advisory Council for the Protection of People Subject to Biomedical Research" and member of the "Laboratory of Ethics of Paris Decartes University".

Take home message

We are interviewing her as a member of the laboratory of ethics of Paris Descartes as the "Advisory Council for the Protection of People Subject to Biomedical Research" does not deal with such issues: the harm to human beings would be indirect here(via a contaminated bacteria for example) and not direct.

Ethics committee. Professor MAMZER-BRUNEEL thinks that there is no proper ethics commity that deals with such issues (indirect harms that genetically modifed organisms could cause to human populations) and thinks that this is a shame as they are some ethics consideration in regards of the release of genetically modified organisms in the wild. She defined a proper ethics comity as follows: a committee who possesses representatives of the social society and not just of scientists.

Elements for an ethic discussion to take place.For an ethics discussion to take place, these elements need to be identified and well characterized:

  • What is the interest for the collectivity?
  • What collectivity are we talking about? A certain group of people? All human beings? Animals?
  • What is the exact field of application?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • What are the risks? (risk not limiting itself to toxicity). [To be evaluated by exeperts]
  • How secure is the system? [To be evaluated by experts]

Then a balance benefits/risks can be established.

Will the risk associated with the release of genetically modified organims in the wild always be too big? No risk is acceptable if there are no benefits. This being said, no, the risk will not always be too big. Theu human being is currently in the process of altering many things: the way to give birth, the way to die, human genes are being modified. However, the release og genetically modifed bacteria in the wild has to be un-demonized. There is the need for a global, TRANSPARENT discussion. Most people do not ask for a risk 0, but they request that the situation, the benefits and risks be clearly explained to them



Dr. Sara Aguiton obtained a PhD at the institue of political science "Science Po ". In 2009, she was part of the Paris Bettencourt iGEM team and her essay called "SynthEthics. An Ethical and Sociological Analysis on Synthetic Biology" got rewarded with the "best human practice advance" prize.

Take home message

She helped us get on the good track for the human practice. She emphasized the fact that the report should really be linked to the rest of our project. It is crucial that we discuss HGT, since when has it been a concern? How have people dealt with it so far? Why our system comes as an answer.

She also pointed out that we should be careful not to distinguish to much the public and scientists, as scientists are also part of the civil society.

Professor GOUYON


Professor Pierre Henri GOUYON is a PhD Geneticist specialist of Evolutionary biology, Population biology and Plant breeding at Université de Paris Sud France. He is a Professor at National Museum of Natural History, AgroParisTech and Science Po Paris.

Take home message

Benefits. Why GMO plants and crops? What are the real benefits? Can we really do better then natural selection, which is very powerful? Some researcher promised 2nd generation GMO plants that can resist to drought, but at the moment it is very unlikely that we can achieve such a thing: we still do not understand most physiological mechanisms in plants.

Risks. We are at a time where technique advances faster then science. For example, we have been able to model a bike for only 10years, although we have been riding this engine for much longer. We did not wait for a working model of the bike to use it. This is happening for GMO's. We do not have complete models yet. Nowadays, we live in a society that tries to maximize innovation, to go as fast as possible, where no one takes the time to understand how things work anymore. Researchers from the public sector should demand that money be invested in other things then innovation: to try and understand how things for instance. The risk associated to the release of GM bacteria in the wild is at the moment impossible to assess. The best we can do at the moment are disaster scenario: for example, we could imagine that the bacteria that we but in a lake to purify water will end up binding an ion that is vital for the life of other organisms in that lake. However, we are not yet able to model the whole lake. Nor are we able to imagine all that could possibly go wrong, or necessarily notice if something actually went wrong.

Our system. You are trying to minimize the time your bacteria is in the wild, but people that want to maximize economical benefits might, on the contrary, try and maximize the time a GM bacteria will be able to remain in the wild.

Discussion with the public. The discussion with the public on GMO crops and plants started during the peak of the mad cow disease. People asked researcher to stop species transgression because it is not natural. Sociologues conducted studies, and concluded that behind this idea of transgression that can seem a bit irrational, there was a more rational fear. Things seen as "natural" are not necessarily less dangerous, but at least they are familiar. People know what to expect. They know what to eat and what not to eat for example (they know which food they are allergic too, what mushroom is poisonous, etc). With transgenic food, they loose their landmarks. We are in an empirical science, we cannot predict what will happen if we change the parameters.

Regulations. There is a big problem due to lobbies. They have a huge power. Lobbying in ministeries should be forbiden.

Patent. One of the big problems in GMO plants and crops are the patents. In iGEM it is ok for the moment becasue the biobrick registry is open source.

Professor MORANGE


Michel Morange is Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for the Study of the History of Science at the Ecole normale supérieure, Paris.

Take home message

History. Professor Morange talked to us about recombinant DNA technology, The Asilomar conference, the guilines that came out of this conference. We detail these in our human practice report.

Benefits. It is very important to know WHY we are doing such and such genetically modifed organism. What benefits are we expecting? I can forsee ecological and economical benefits to the use of GM bacteria in the wild.

Risks. We do not know how to evaluate the risk. We are not even able to completly identify it. Therefore the precaution principle should be applied when releasing gentically modified organisms in the wild. All risk can be acceptable if the benefits are high enough.

Discussion with the public. There was no real discussion in France like there was in the US after Asilomar, so each time the whole debate starts again. Moreover, debates may be held, but in the end, are people saying "no" really listened to? The debate concerning GMO plants and crops was very badly led: it was not a real debate, and peopl where never presetned with the risks (they were told there was no risks). Therfore, Europeans felt that GMO food was imposed to them, that they had no real say in the situation.

Patent. It is important to keep the biobrick registry open source.

Our system. Good idea. When natural bacteria/animals/plants are introduced in a new , there is also a risk of disrupting the recipient ecosystem. this is not jsut a problem inherant to genetically modifed organims. Therfore your synthetic safe guard system could also be used in "natural" bacteria that are intorduced in other ecosystems.

Professor Ricroch


Agnès Ricroch is a Lecturer in Plant Genetics at AgroParisTech Paris HDR, PhD Orsay Univ. France; and an adjunct professor at Penn State Univ, USA. She published 3 books on GMOs.

Take home message

Nothing really new here from what we heard in the previous interviews; apart from the fact that Professor Ricroch seems to have a much more positive vision of GMO then Pr.Gouyon. She perceives real benefits and is confident in second generation GMO (plants resistant to drought).

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