Team:Valencia Biocampus/Ethics


Human Practices

In the "Talking life" project we did not only want to speak with bacteria, but we also wanted to speak with humans! The HP practices team identified some ethical and social issues that were relevant to our project. We wanted to communicate such issues and discuss them with a broader peer community, with scientists and other citizens. We made a movie that we used as a vehicle to communicate those issues and to trigger public debate. Slide along the timeline to know the steps we followed in the course of our HP exercise:

If you are fond of our work on Human Practices, download our Ethical issues diary here!

Talking Life

Click here to watch the 10 minute film that we made in collaboration with Artefactando. We also acted in the movie and used it in our debates. Based on real ethical concerns but in the form of a fictional story. We envisaged a possible future applications for our talking bacterial cultures and we used the movie to generate debate. The movie initiates debate around three ethical issues: Could we use talking bacteria to care for others? Who should own living technologies? If bacteria can speak, can they also lie?

The film was projected and debated five times: (1) France (Banyuls) to an audience of scientific European students, (2) Norway (Bergen), in front of a group of sociologists and ethics, (3) Barcelona, to a heterogeneous group of students and workers, (4) Valencia, in the cultural center named “Octubre” to a scientific public from professors and doctors to undergraduate students, and (5) in the scientific Campus of University of Valencia to a wide biology-related student audience.

If you are interested in how we did it or you want to know about the main ideas debated click in the different links that you can find above. To know more about other non-planned ethical aspects that came out to debate click here.

Below you can find the general analysis and conclusions we came up with from the five debates:

Integrated HP: Lying bacteria?

Since our project consists of talking with microorganisms, we asked ourselves the question “what would happen if they lied to us?” Not consciously, of course, but mutants who give different answers to the same question could be evolutionarily favored in a bacterial culture. Our HP team addressed this issue in an integrated fashion: both in public debates and in the lab.

Our Human Practices team and topics play a central and integrated role in our iGEM project. Not only did we explore ethical concerns of our activity, but also we coordinated our work in the lab to test our “lying bacteria” vision. We addressed the questions above in two ways:

1. Debating: We decided to shoot a short film to give insight and a jumping off point to our integrated vision. We discussed it with different audiences in public debates in three different European countries. We then analyzed their comments and response to the short film. We wanted to discuss ethical issues such as: What if this talking technology was used in everyday devices and they lied? How would people react to this? Should the blame be given to companies developing those devices? How frequently would mutants appear? Imagine that this technology was hackable. What ethical issues would arise?

2. Modeling and wetlab: Together with the modeling team, we carried out experiments in the wetlab to predict how often those liars or cheaters would appear in cultures and compared the fitness of cheaters against the original culture.