Team:UIUC Illinois/Human Practices/Ethics


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Genetic Engineering, Probiotics, and Ethics: the Bioengineer's Dilemma

For some individuals genetically modified organisms can be a very sensitive topic. The discussion over the usage of genetic engineering techniques in agriculture still rages across the world as one of the most contentious debates of the 21st century. As genetic engineers, we support the use of GM organisms to forward humanitarian standards in society by making food and healthcare cheaper and more accessible to as many people as possible.

That said, the scope of our project is more focused than the broad category of "GMOs." Our probiotic is simply that: a probiotic contained within the human body of those who ingest it. Luckily, this means that our organism cannot impact local ecosystems or other living creatures; this makes the debate much easier than discussions over GM crops.

With appropriate time and resources, a fully realized Cardiobiotics cell would contain no antibiotic resistances. Since the entirety of changes to its genome are contained in a single replicating cell, it is significantly easier to analyze any potential side-effects of integrating our parts into the genome of the cell when compared to multicellular organisms. For this reason we feel that the nature of a modified Nissle 1917 could be fully analyzed and confirmed as truly safe.

Because our Cardiobiotics are nothing more than new additions to the gut flora, it is not necessary to worry about elimination from the human body. Cardiobiotics cells are optimized for growth within the human body; once outside of it, their chances of survival are quite weak. Transgenic gene transfer is not a concern, either! In the rare case that such an event occurs in the digestive system, it is unlikely to harm the body whatsoever; in extreme or concerning cases, the bacteria of the gut flora may be eliminated directly through the use of antibiotics.

It is our hope that as more and more useful technologies made possible by genetic engineering enter the public sphere, more early start-up companies will be accepted by the public for their valuable skills and products.