As an emerging technology, Synthetic Biology raises new technical and scientific challenges but also questions for ethics, biosafety, biosecurity and intellectual property. As one of the stakeholder of Synthetic biology, our team lead a open-discussion at the Lab about these questions. You can find our work in the wiki in [Ethic part] or directly in [SynthEthics.pdf].
After these general purposes, we will now come up with questions/answers focused on biosafety.
Biosafety is the prevention of unintentional exposure to pathogens and toxins, or their accidental release. Biosecurity is prevention of loss, theft, misuse, diversion or intentional release of pathogens and toxins. ( see World Health Organization. 2004. Laboratory biosafety manual. Third edition. Geneva.)
Local biosafety overview
The work has been carried out in the laboratory of Molecular, Evolutive and Medical Genetics Unit (U571, also know as [TaMaRa's lab]) of the French National Institute of Medical Research ([INSERM]) within the [Paris Descartes University's Medical faculty]. Thus, the work was inspected both by the University's Safety officer (last surprise visit 18 Oct went smoothly with the only caveat being paper boxes on ther top shelf above the bench that needed to be removed...). More importantly, the biosafety officer of our unit followed our work.
Both institutions have their ethical committees though no specific issue concerning our project needed to be raised. Nonetheless, a thorough work was done throughout this period regarding general safety and ethical issues not only specific to our work (including declining other ideas of projects that might have had potential future hazard). This is detailed within the Ethics part of our wiki documentation. Click here for more [Ethics and Biosafety]
Safety issues raise by our ideas
While brainstorming, some of our ideas raise safety issues.
Drug injection mediaded by a meningitis bacterial like
At one moment, we came with the idea to modify a bacteria with some genetics materials of Neisseria meningitidis in order to be able to deliver drugs directly in the human brain. [Meningitis bacterial] can disrupt the blood-brain barrier, this disruption may increase the penetration of various substances (including antibiotics but also pathogen, toxin) into the brain.
The best chassis for Synthetic Biology
As we wanted to have a stable system, we wanted to use a resistant bacteria as a chassis. We though about using [Deinococcus radiodurans], an extremophilic bacterium, one of the most radioresistant organisms known.
Risk assessment in synthetic biology
At the opposite of GMO, Synthetic biology framework proposes to increase the number of transfered genes but also to use neo genes that do not exist previously in Nature. This raises an important biosafety question. We came with this idea that increasing modelization could lead to Risk assessment.
Some of us will continue to work in laboratory doing research, so in a safety environment. But it is possible that one of us will continue by its own by being involved in a [DIYBio like group]. So the iGEM time gives us the opportunity to share reflections about all the biosafety questions, raises the questions of the place and responsability of the scientist in the society.
Other challenges to overcome in synthetic Biology
- George M. Church : A Synthetic Biohazard Non-proliferation Proposal 
- SynBiosafe [http://www.synbiosafe.eu/]
- Vivagora : [http://www.vivagora.org/]