Team:KULeuven/Ethics/Our project


Our project

Synthetic biology is defined as the design and fabrication of biological components and systems that don’t exist in a natural environment. It’s also the redesign and fabrication of existing biological systems. (1) This is exactly what we did in our project. We used components of different organisms and put these together to make our own designed organism. For example, we used receptors from Agrobacterium tumefaciens for the vanillin detection. This could have a major effect on the environment, if the organism is released. It can become stronger than its natural counterpart and eventually displace all endogenous organisms. You can design the bacterium in such a way that it can only exist if it receives the proper nutrients. Therefore, it won't survive a release in the environment. For that reason you don't have to implement a dead-man-switch in the design. The bacteria can grow untill the nutrients are consumed, after which they die. Moreover, our organism doesn’t interfere with humans or other species. In our project the bacteria remain safely in a container and in other applications they are kept in the laboratory or industrial facility where it’s used (e.g. bioreactor). A third argument is the fact that the used strain of Escherichia coli cannot harm people and is too weak to compete with other organisms. All the above arguments and the purpose of our project make it possible to minimize the risks of modifying organisms.

(1) Arjun Bhutkar. (2005). Synthetic Biology: Navigating the Challenges Ahead.