Team:Panama/human practice


Revision as of 01:00, 28 October 2010 by Ezequiel.aguilar (Talk | contribs)

iGEM Panama

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Society must understand the responsibilities and issues that arise with the development of new scientific and technological knowledge, especially when these are related to the biology and life sciences, as is currently happening in the Synthetic Biology field. This project is focused on addressing the same issues and topics that are being addressed by The Presidential Commission chaired by Amy Gutmann for the Study of Bioethical Issues, established by the U.S. government president Barack Obama in November 24, 2009.This commission is addressing issues such as the announcement of the Venter Institute on the creation of the first bacteria with synthetic DNA in July of this year We must do and ask some reflections about our own conception of develop and relation with nature, to respond to these scientific advances.

Human Practices Project Objective

Our project goal is to establish in the Republic of Panama a communication bridge between the whole civil society (including experts and non expert) and Synthetic Biology (SB) developers’ vision.

Activities As a part of Human Practices Project, we develop the following activities:

  • Development of a Survey and interviews related to different subjects linked to the new field of Synthetic Biology in our country.
  • Discussion of Bioethical Issues within several Synthetic Biology matters.
  • SB Promotion Campaign within the civil society.


A survey was designed to adrdress issues related to the iGEM competition, with the aim of understanding the perception and levels of knowledge of our community (expert and non expert population) on the matters of Synthetic Biology. This survey was first given to the iGEM Panama Team; however, further samplings upon other Panamanian society sector have been taken periodically since that time. Our survey is oriented to deal with two principal subjects. The first contains the most general questions on Synthetic Biology and Human Practices. The second, is related to the possibility of having an out-of-control incident, how to react to this situation, mitigation procedures and how to avoid these issues.


A fundamental task of the Human Practices projects has been to develop an extensive review of conceptions and definitions about Synthetic Biology. This action, gave us a wider vision of the objectives and aims of this science and its principal target was to create a strong enough conceptual framework to perform a interpretative translation into a more colloquial language directed to the whole civil society, and which allows the latter to acquire its own opinion and to make point of views and clearly defined decisions related to various bioethical and legal matters within Synthetic Biology field. Therefore, we can divide our philosophical reflection into stages as follows

  1. What is Synthetic Biology?
  2. Is this field different to other existent ones related to Biology as a science?
  3. How Biology and Engineering approaches get together on the Synthetic Biology Field?
  4. Which are the principal issues related to Synthetic Biology?
  5. What is iGEM?

After the revision of these matters, we set the goal of getting deep into the question: Which factual possibility of having an out–of–control situation there exist within this technological development?

This work and the results of the iGEM Panama Team application of the survey results were synthesized in one poster that was shown on the XIII National Scientific Congress from the Panamanian Association for Advancement of Science (APANAC), which is the most stable and recognized event in the scientific community in Panama. The poster and presentation exposed by iGEM Panama Team generated a great amount of interest among the concurrent public and the evaluating judges in several Synthetic Biology matters like ‘What is Synthetic Biology?’, ‘Which are Synthetic Biology implications to society? (patents, bioterrorism, artificial creation of life, etc)’.


The poster was awarded with the laureate approbation for the evaluation judges as one of the best works presented during XIII National Scientific Congress, APANAC 2010 (Poster category)

See Awarded Poster (in Spanish) [1]

Synthetic Biology Human Practices Poster at APANAC


Television documentaries about Synthetic Biology and the iGEM competition have been done as part of promotion of this knowledge to the widest sector of the population as possible. Also, we developed an advertising campaign during the National Fair of Scientific and Innovative Young People, a three day event. In this event we had a stand where a video introducing the iGEM competition was shown and explained. Also, the cutting edge nature of this project and its potencial for the whole of Panamanian society was remarked and discussed.

See Video of Promotion of iGEM & Synthetic Biology in Panama Public Television [2]

iGEM Panama Team on TVN (Channel 2) News (Spanish) [3]

See Fair Pamphlet (Spanish)[4]

See Newspaper Article [5]


These are the survey results related to our iGEM Panama Team members.

Possible risk to human kind

Within our team all people answered that there is a true possibility about technological advances can get out of control, and can provoke danger to the environment or the human kind. This possibility raised concern about the regulations and legal framework around these advances.

Creating Artificial Life

About this question, the majority of the members of the team answered that if we can create artificial life we must do it (46%). But 23% is against the creation of artificial life and 31% respond that it's too difficult to answer. These results within our team show the amazing division of opinions around this topic, and invite us to make future debates and workshops about this issue.

Patent Genetic Material

Within iGEM Panama Team 2010, this question had a great opinion division with a 42% of member against the patentability of genetic material vs a 41% in favor (with 17% saying that is too much difficult to answer).

Biosafety vs Biosecurity. Translation and conceptual Issues in Spanish

As Latin-Americans, it is important to note that the conceptual differences between biosecurity and biosafety, cannot be translated into Spanish in a very accurate fashion, because both terms are commonly translated as "bioseguridad" (without remarkable definition differences).

Definitions by (The Sunshine Project, 2003): Biosafety is to protect individual laboratory workers from exposure to the microorganisms they handle. By contrast, the goal of biosecurity is to “protect dangerous biological materials from inadvertent or deliberate release to the community or environment”. About Our Project Biosafety Level see Safety[6] Section

Conclusions and Discussion

The development of this project has awakened a great deal of scientific and general inquietude and questioning, as might be expected in a developing country. The principal issues among these can be listed as follows:

  • The unfinished debate about what life is, the conceptual description about natural and artificial, and the profound moral, religious and cultural implications that this kind of debate generates.
  • Genetic material patentability.
  • The possibility of causing irreversible damage to ecosystems and living beings derived from some “ill–intentioned” usage of these technologies.
  • The necessity of having a legal structure capable of analyzing juridical matters related to these developing, ongoing, technologies. This topic is tremendously important for all Panamanian people as a nation because not having this any relevant capability within the framework of our law, exposes the community to threats and hazards due to this lack of appropriate regulations and protection policies.
  • The extraordinary emerging possibilities on the developing of drugs and environmental and public health issues mitigation and remediation that Synthetic Biology can prominently offer, maintaining the premise of having an adequate control for expected results and a supervised legal framework.

Note: In the development of this work the recent debates developed at the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues from the United States of America Government presided by Dra. Amy Gutmann (see ) were used as a reference. In these debates, the implications and significance of the present and future advances and develop on the matters of this new emerging field, Synthetic Biology, are extensively discussed. Therefore, a similar approach was intended to apply in our country, bringing into the public opinion different conceptions, scientific, philosophical and technical, about this nascent and exciting field of knowledge.


The approach to Synthetic Biology in our country is just beginning. We are planning to continue doing our job (Survey, interviews, forums, presentations, and so on) on the purpose of building a bridge between SB and the community. So, for this reason, we want to end stating that the work operations performed until today were just the first step in the consecution of a new dimension of knowledge in SB, getting better each day to day.