Team:Virginia United/Human Practices




Security Implications

As synthetic biology grows in application and potential, we need to remember the social, ethical and security implications. In order to accomplish this we must promote awareness and understanding, lest we face confusion and fear. It was the intended goal of the Virginia United team to gauge the opinion of the average college student on the ethical and security issues related to synthetic biology and biological engineering. By targeting the average individual, we can gain a greater understanding for how to present the facts along with the risks. It also allows the synthetic biology community to assess the fears of the national and international communities.

Our survey is 18 multiple-choice questions long and targets individuals with varying biological exposure. To do this we have targeted large classes on the VCU campus to get a large distribution of students. This is because students of all majors are required to take general education requirements and would give their largest breath of students and to avoid selective surveying. Below is the survey we handed out. Ideally, similar research should be conducted at other universities to raise awareness and a positive connotation.

Additionally, as a part of our preparation for the summer research we attended a seminar and FBI workshop by Dr. Edward You. This workshop, hosted by VBI, was informative and eye opening. We encourage other universities to host similar events, as the future of our field in the public arena, will be reliant on an open and working relationship between scientists and our respective governments.

Bioethics and Biosecurity on College Campuses

Synthetic biology is a new emerging field, which drives to make biology an “engineerable” process. This research has led to many advances such as a lab at Berkley creating a pathway for yeast to create artemisinin. This is a precursor for an anti-malarial drug, making the drug more affordable for third world and developing nations. However, as the field grows researchers are wary of the ethical, societal and security issues related to the field. This has led the drive for awareness in the public and collaboration with the government. In this survey, we are trying you gauge your general perception of the field and relative knowledge in certain areas. Thank-you for taking the time to complete this survey.

Bioethics (multiple choice)

1. Rate your knowledge of Synthetic Biology?

a. Absolutely no knowledge /  b. Some knowledge  /  c. Are you kidding I live for this stuff?

2. Describe synthetic biology in one word.

a. Awesome / b. Cutting-edge / c. Dangerous / d. Immoral  /  e. A & B  /   f. C & D /  g. All of the above

3. Do you see any moral or ethical issues with genetic manipulation?

a. Yes  /  b. No

4. Do you feel as if scientists in this and related fields are playing god?

a. Yes  /  b. No

5. Are you aware that humans have engaged in genetic manipulation through out the ages in the form of selective breeding?

a. Yes  /  b. No

6. How easy do you think it is to manipulate genes of a plant or large animal?

a. Very easy  /  b. Somewhat easy  /  c. Hard  /  d. Very Hard

7. If I told you that it is currently still very difficult to work with E. coli, would you feel the same way?

a. Yes  /  b. No

8. Do the ethical applications out-weigh the unethical applications?

a. Yes   /  b. No

9. On a scale of 1 to 10, how concerned are you about bio-security and bioterrorism.

10. What would you consider a bio-terrorist attack?

a. Anthrax   /  b. Bacteria contaminating water/food supplies   /  c. Both biological and chemical warfare

11. How protected do you think the United States is against a bio-terrorist attack?

a. Not protected   /  b. Somewhat protected   /  c. Protected   /  d. Very protected

12. How easy do you think it is to purchase DNA?

a. Not easy, strict requirements   /  b. Easy, any one can purchase for a home lab  /  c. Very easy, my two year old can buy it

13. Should there be government restrictions on public labs?

a. Yes   /  b. No

14. If so, what restrictions should be placed on public labs?

a. Labs should be locked at all times   /  b. Only authorized personal should have access   /  c. Research restricted to non-contagious materials

15. Is it possible or legal to enforce restrictions on privately funded labs?

a. Yes   /  b. No   /  c. Maybe

16. Do you support future biological research?

a. Yes  /  b. No   /  c. Maybe

17. How well has the field done to promote public awareness of issues and benefits?

a. No awareness   /  b. If you want it you can find it   /  c. Very aware

18. What do you think is the most effective way to increase awareness?

a. Online Webinars about Synthetic Biology

b. Pamphlets

c. Seminars on campus

d. Interactive websites that provide general overviews