Team:Marburg/Human Practice/Conferences:MissionsSynmikro


Missions for Synthetic Biology Next Previous

The “Missions for Synthetic Biology“ are public meetings organized by a group of PhD students of different SYNMIKRO research groups. Every meeting deals with current aspects of Synthetic Biology and biotechnology and leads to stimulating discussions according to the topic. So for example the topics “Biofuels” and “The dark side of Synthetic Biology” were discussed critically and we as the iGEM team joined the monthly events with great interest. In their third forum at the 16th of July we presented our project PHAECTORY to get some helpful feedback about our project and to discuss especially the safety issues.

June 2013, Topic: “iGEM Marburg presents: PHAECTORY”

They aim at a forum of open discussion and creative enthusiasm on how synthetic biology can be used to solve problems in all domains of our life. The third topic of ‘Missions’ was PHAECTORY by the Marburg iGEM team in 2013. Prof. Michael Bölker started with a seminar introducing of synthetic biology, which aims at producing organisms, which do not exist in nature. To bring synthetic biology forward, the iGEM competition motivates students to design their own biological systems. After the great introduction to synthetic biology, the Marburg iGEM team, which was represented by Domenica and Estefania, presented the project for the 2013 jamboree. The project is called PHAECTORY. The team aims at establishing a green cell factory – based on the microalgae P. tricornutum - for the production of high-value proteins. The iGEM team wants to establish BioBricks in Phaeodactylum-like promoters, the Hepatitis B antibody and antibiotic resistance. Beside research, an important part of the iGEM competition is the human practice sector. This means that the public should get informed about the project and synthetic biology in general. The iGEM team reported on the various activities. For example, a public debate on synthetic biology or their presence on the Hessentag with the experiment “DNA isolation from paprika”.

In the following discussion biosafety was the main issue. The work with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) harbours the risk of their release to nature. After release, serious consequences such as gene exchange with unmodified organism or ecosystem imbalance cannot be excluded. It is therefore necessary to keep GMOs isolated from the environment or to make their survival in nature impossible. As a consequence of the discussion at the ‘Missions for Synthetic Biology’ forum, iGEM Marburg decided to develop a security system for Phaeodactylum tricornutum to increase biosafety of PHAECTORY.

Here you can download the presentation as a PDF-file

May 2013, Topic: “The dark side of Synthetic Biology”

The forum started with a seminar on bioethics as a part of applied ethics. An important message is that scientists have to think about a potential dual-use of their discoveries and inventions. Dual use – in essence - means that every discovery can be used in a positive or in a negative way. Therefore, an important point of discussion was how far academic freedom should be cut to ensure security. This issue was illustrated by an amazing lecture by Prof. Becker from the Dep. of Virology, Philipps University, Marburg. Modern biotechnology could construct gene modified pathogenic agents. “Problematic” experiments (e.g. increase virulence or weaponisation) were not forbidden but scientists have to take care. An important and recent example was the H5N1 virus. H5N1 influenza virus infects birds and is a possible pandemic virus. Two important publications lead to an acute debate. The question was if the data should be published. There was a big fear of misuse but finally the data were published. Who should decide in the future with experiments can be made? Should only selected scientists get knowledge of dangerous experiments but who should select them? A further question was: Should some results never be published if they contain explosive material? At the end of a heated debate, all participants agreed that synthetic biology requires a constant ethical debate to define values in this young and emerging part of science. In this meaning all members agreed that this discussion must include the public to prevent misunderstandings and fears!

February 2013, Topic: "Biofuels"

In a short introduction about the topic biofuels they focused on civilization problems (e.g. energy, food, health, mobility and environment). Biofuel production from plants developed more and more but caused food problems, whereas biofuel production from lignin was less problematically in terms of food competition. There are high amounts available but the process needs much energy and is expensive. Another point was biofuel production from algae because there was no competition with food. The last item was biofuel production from hydrogen. At the moment it is produced from fossil fuels but will be produced by microorganisms in the future.

The discussion was opened afterwards. Advantages and disadvantages of lignin were the main aspects which were discussed. Lignin is a product of plants, produces by radical polymeration of monolignoles. 10 – 30 % of higher plants are formed of lignin. Degradation is very difficult and needs molecular oxygen. Big problems are caused by the phenolic components which are formed during degradation. Those components are toxic for many microorganisms. The archeal organism Sulfolobus solfataricus could become a possible degrader. Research in this field is currently under way. Finally the efficiency of plants as energy producers was discussed.