Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ethics News: Scientists Against Sloppiness

BioCision, a biotech company that develops temperature-controlling products such as special alloy eppendorf tube racks that protect biological samples during rapid and repeated freezing, is launching a tongue-in-cheek campaign with the serious aim of standardizing laboratory practices to ensure the quality of cell and tissue samples. The campaign seeks to get scientists to pay more attention to how biological samples are treated in the lab, as shifts in temperature can have huge effects on the quality of many cell and tissue samples.

The campaign and its web site (which is rather fun to read through) calls needed attention to the "little murders" of everyday science, or the small oversights and misdemeanors that we all are subject to in the lab, such as leaving a sample in a test tube rack on the counter for too long or not being consistent in how we handle each of samples in an experiment. In some cases, these small mistakes can lead to problems down the line in the quality of data. So while samples probably aren't feeling too abused by these practices, the integrity of the final results might be being compromised.

See "Zigmond, Michael and Beth A. Fisher. "The Little Murders of Everyday Science: Commentary on 'Six Domains of Research Ethics.'" Science and Engineering Ethics Volume 8, Number 2, 229-234, DOI: 10.1007/s11948-002-0024-3

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ethics News: Synthetic Biology

The highlight of the September 2nd edition of Science Magazine is a collection of articles on synthetic biology, an emerging field that, "brings together biologists, physicists, chemists, and engineers who seek to bother understand life and to build new biological functions."(1) Sounds a bit like nanotechnology in its cross-disciplinary draw. But what kinds of ethics questions does this new field raise? The issue includes an interesting article on regulating industrial uses of new biotechnologies, but here are a few organizations are taking a closer look at these issues...

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released a report in December 2010 entitled, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies.
The National Academy for Engineering held a workshop on synthetic biology and engineering ethics in September of 2010. You can read the notes from the workshop here.

The National Academy of Engineering sponsored a workshop in September of 2010 looking at synthetic biology and engineering ethics. You can read the notes from this workshop here.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars started the Synthetic Biology Project in 2010 to promote public and policy discourse on synthetic biology and its societal implications.

(1)Vinson, Valda and Elizabeth Pennisi. 'The Allure of Synthetic Biology." Science 333(6047) pp.1235.