Our entry into the realm of Human Practices began in the very early stages of our work, as we scoured the literature to provide a background on our subjects. The Biomining team aimed to engineer a means for bacteria to degrade silica as part of a project in electronics recycling, and came across a gene for silicase––which was patented. Further, any gene with ~25% similarity to the patented gene fell under that same patent! We had no understanding of how to approach or even understand the patent, and were unsure how to move forward. Fortunately, we had the help of some individuals knowledgeable about intellectual property, notably Linda Kahl and Kevin Jackson (both of whom we thank very much), to help us navigate this potential legal conundrum.


Given the trajectory of synthetic biology, we understood that we were not the first nor the last iGEM team to encounter gene patents as a potential roadblock to pursuing a project. While we were fortunate enough to have the resources to tackle this problem, not every iGEM has a Linda Kahl or a Kevin Jackson to approach for help. Therefore, we endeavored to create a Patent Guide to share what we learned with the entire iGEM community: to encourage a kind of intellectual parity within the realm of iGEM when it comes to the problem of patents.

Yet, once we forayed into Human Practices we could not stop there. The marriage of synthetic biology and astrobiology produces a very unique set of ethical problems, among which are the considerations surrounding gene patents and the potential of terraforming using what we learn from astrobiology. Both of these are serious issues that affect the approach to both of these disciplines. As such, we felt it necessary to explore the ethics of both gene patents and terraforming to better understand our projects in full light and gain perspective on where we are going in science and as a species.