A pinch of philosophy

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” - Albert Camus

The topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) often lead to dramatically different feelings and opinions among people - some also very negative. Public debates often link genetic modification and designer babies while pop culture movies such as “The Island” show cloning being horribly misused to create unconsenting organ donors. Our fantasy is free to imagine all kinds of scenarios. Such concerns may be labeled public risk perception and are a layman’s input to public discourse (For a thorough evaluation of safety, see our Safety page).

Our project doesn’t present major ethical dilemmas, mainly because the modified bacteria are not meant to come into contact with humans. The bacteria are non-pathogenic and the genes we introduce do not give them advantages that can be passed on to more dangerous bacteria (the exception being antibiotic resistances). On the contrary, some of the genes we introduce pose a disadvantage: the bacteria are unable to regulate the dxs gene from B. subtilis and the prenyltransferase catalyses the formation of a cytotoxic substance. Furthermore, the transcription and translation of plasmids wastes energy that could be spent on growing and dividing, particularly in an antibiotic-free environment. Hence, plasmid loss seems likely if our modified bacteria were introduced into nature.

Ethical dilemmas concerning out-competing the established industry can be raised. Poverty is already widespread amongst third world manual laborers, who risk to lose additional jobs, if agricultural industry is converted to hi-tech. However, environmental solutions might arguably outweigh economical concerns. This is certainly true, if the rubber farmers are presented with an alternate usage for their land, and with the growing demand for rubber, conventional methods of extraction might be necessary for years after implementation of Bacteriorganic Rubber.

The bacteria need an energy source, if they are to produce rubber. In the lab this energy source is the LB media, which is made from casein (from milk). Industrial usage of human food is heavily criticized, as exemplified by the debate on biofuel from corn. A solution could be to transfer the system to cyanobacteria that grow on carbon dioxide and sunlight. A positive externality of this solution is the consumption of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.