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Hi Mom



Synthetic Biology is a fledgling and controversial field just as recombinant DNA was in the 1970s. It unites the principles of engineering and biology in order to create dynamic systems that can be used for a variety of ends. The ethical issues surrounding synthetic biology primarily deal with concerns about the unnatural introduction of genetically modified organisms, the release of dangerous viruses, the monopolization by a particular group of biological parts or systems, and the creation of life.
iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, was created in order to further the field of synthetic biology, especially the novel creation of biological systems by allowing groups of college students to create new systems of their choice while sharing and adding to a standard registry of biological parts. By standardizing these components and outlining a basic set of rules for the usage of these parts, it is hoped that anyone, regardless of their background, can draw from this database and make their own creations.
iGEM as a whole seeks to reduce some of these ethical issues. First of all the strains of e. coli that are used would not be able to survive outside of lab conditions, and so the possible threat of the release of this E.Coli is nonexistent. Additionally, due to the necessity to add to the parts database as well as use the parts database, part-patenting is discouraged and a sharing of ideas is welcomed. The use of an open “Wikipedia” to convey ideas, steps taken, problems encountered, and ways of solving these problems also promotes the sharing environment that iGEM seeks to create.
This year the Harvard team has created a bacterial blackboard using a yeast two hybrid system and luciferase proteins. The blackboard can only be activated with a certain frequency of light, and must be erased with a different frequency of light. Accidental release of this blackboard would not alter the environment. Creation of this blackboard has allowed us to expand the parts registry, and has created a platform for a bacterial blackboard that others in the future can hope to expand. Our blackboard plays an inspirational role in showing what a fun and safe toy anyone with access to a standard registry could make by using just a few proteins, promoters, and plasmids!





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