Team:Heidelberg/Human Practices


Human Practices

The public attitude toward synthetic biology is one of the most important aspects, influencing its future development by determining the social acceptance, commercial application and funding.

For this reason, the psychological part of the human practice project of the Heidelberg team 2010 focused in proving the relationship between people’s knowledge of synthetic biology and its acceptance. To prove this relationship we invited 71 participants and divided them into three groups which got different kind of knowledge. Afterward, the participants had to fill in a questionnaire referring their acceptance.

The philosophical part considers the problem of public acceptance and perception of synthetic biology from a more general point of view: the question is, if, with the actual terms currently used in synthetic biology, a critical public discussion could even be possible. To consider this question some central terms like “artificial cell” or “living machine” were analyzed, which are semantically paradox itself: how can something be alive and dead at the same time? How is it possible to have something, invented by humans and at the same time developed evolutionary?

The human practice team considered not only the problematically relationship between society and synthetic biology in general it also focused on the competition itself.

We tried to answer the questions if animal experiments (like they were conducted by our team) were ethically justified, if in general, these testing were acceptable for a collegiate field of research like iGEM and if the competition can handle the responsibility that comes along with such experiments.

But why is the analysis of all this (knowledge, terms, and animal testing) necessary? There have been made lots of surveys by past iGEM teams and almost uncountable ethical reflections. So, what is the difference to our project this year? Well, never before had a team invited two neutral experts, studying psychology and philosophy, to work on their human practice project. Furthermore, the past surveys were neither representative nor methodically correct and with this have no explanatory power. The ethical considerations were superficially and mostly limited to questions of security and safety which are commonly clarified. Thus, the difference will be an appropriate methodical approach that is based in the social and empirical sciences.