Human Practice

Dr James Logan

James is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Disease Control and Scientific Director of the Arthropod Control Product Test Centre (arctec). He is Principle Investigator of a large research portfolio investigating novel ways to control arthropod vectors that transmit pathogens of human and animal diseases in the UK and overseas. Through chemical ecology studies, his research group explores the complex interaction between arthropod vectors, vertebrate hosts and pathogens at the behavioural, olfactory and molecular level.

The Westminster iGEM team met up with Dr James Logan at The London school of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to discuss with him our project and what the iGEM is. We discussed our novel approach to the beg bug problem and our delivery method. We talked about possible issues with contamination and how we could go about solving them. We also discussed how to make our project more affective at targeting beg bug. He suggested using pheromones which cause the bugs to coagulate thus allowing our construct to spread easily through contact. He has even given us some bed bugs to do our testing on…



Synthetic Biology Speed Debate

The team held a speed debate event which was held in the "Pavilion" at the University of Westminster. During the event, participants were allocated to five groups where they had the opportunity to discuss and debate a topic put forward. Individuals then moved to the next table by selecting a random table number.  Before the event started, the participants were asked to write down what comes to mind when they hear the word synthetic biology? And this is what they came up with.

The questions asked in the speed debate were as follows

Whose decision should it be to assess the dangers of genetically modified organisms and the release of such organisms into the environment?

Participants agreed that companies should not have the authority to assess the dangers of GMO's since they can be influenced by profit rather than concentrating on the benefits the organism may have to society. There may also be some danger if government has over-riding authority as they may favour a GMO as a form propaganda to gain public vote. Some felt that an independent body such as the IPCC should have control over which GMO should be released into the environment after both the advantages and disadvantages are assessed thoroughly.

How do you feel about the idea of DNA being patented or owned and used for commercial gain?

This question sparked a lot of dispute and opinions were completely divided. Those who agreed with the idea believed it would have a positive effect by encouraging people to study science and to be able to make a living out of it. Patent DNA would be a form of motivation for people to create new genetic parts with unique properties and build a new scientific market and research area.

However, the ones who disagreed argued that DNA already exists and should not be owned by anyone. They highlighted the dangers of allowing a few people to own the genetic information of humans, animals or plants.

Is it ethical to take advantage of other life forms and modify them for human benefit?

Philip Boeing stated that the phrase “taking advantage” is not fairly used and quite ambiguous in this context. What does it mean by taking advantage? An organisms genome could be modified not just for our benefit but also theirs. Some stated if the organism cannot think or feel pain then modifying after extensive study should not be classified as unethical. Since the Earth’s natural sources are running out there is now an urgent demand for alternative methods. On the other hand, the opposing team stated that modified organism would caus  a reduction in genetic diversity and the long term effects are unknown.

Would you feel comfortable in an environmental situation which contained organisms modified by Synthetic Biology?

This was pretty straightforward. Everyone agreed as long as it was properly regulated, tested and sufficient information was given regarding what organisms have been released.

Do you think the benefits of Synthetic Biology could outweigh the risks?

This question was not as clear cut as the others. If the question was a matter of life and death rather than for commercial or cosmetic purposes then it was generally felt that the benefit may outweigh the risks. I general the groups felt that use of synthetic biology may be more accepted if used to cure human illness, but were more cautious in risk to the environment. Releasing modified into the environment may have a knock on effect on other organism and unfortunately at the moment there is just not enough knowledge  on the potential harm it may have to the ecosystem.


At the end of the session, the participants were asked to write down what comes to mind when they hear the word synthetic biology? And this is what they came up with.

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by Westminster iGEM 2013