7 PM | The fast-evolving ethical conundrums of biotechnology | 12th November, 2019

Context: List of ethical concerns for the biotechnology and bio-engineering community.

More in news: The 2019 Global Community Bio Summit will be held at MIT Media Lab, Cambridge in October.

Biotechnology:

  • Biotechnology is a broad discipline in which biological processes, organisms, cells or cellular components are exploited to develop new technologies.
  • Brewing and baking bread are examples of processes that fall within the concept of biotechnology such as use of yeast (living organism) to produce the desired product.
  • Such traditional processes usually utilize the living organisms in their natural form (or further developed by breeding), while the more modern form of biotechnology will generally involve a more advanced modification of the biological system or organism.
  • Today, biotechnology covers many different disciplines for example. Genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, etc.
  • New technologies and products are developed every year within the areas of eg.
    • medicine (development of new medicines and therapies),
    • agriculture (development of genetically modified plants, biofuels, biological treatment)
    • industrial biotechnology (production of chemicals, paper, textiles and food).

Bioengineering:

  • Bioengineering is the interface between engineering and medicine. 
  • Bioengineering is the application of the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering principles to define and solve problems in biology, medicine, health care and other fields.
  • Bioengineering is a relatively new discipline that combines many aspects of traditional engineering fields such as chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. Examples of bioengineering include:
    • artificial hips, knees and other joints
    • ultrasound, MRI and other medical imaging techniques
    • using engineered organisms for chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing

Global Community Bio Summit:

  • The Community Biotechnology initiative at the MIT Media Lab organized the first Global Community Bio Summit in 2017.
  • Their mission is to provide a space for the global community of independent and community laboratories to convene, plan, build fellowship, and continue the evolution of our movement.
  • The programming topic includes diversity and inclusion, sharing and learning, bio security, enabling technologies, bio art and design, and more. 
  • The 2019 was the third annual Global Summit on Community Biotechnology.

Bio Summit’s list of areas where ethical conundrums lie:

  • Respect: Prioritizing the rights of humans, animals and ecosystems and attuning the ways so that bio community practices do not harm other living beings
  • Credit: Making sure the work serves as a resource for the community and the broader public while valuing the importance of new technology.
  • Community: Taking collective decision by identifying and engaging non-bio stakeholders.
  • Autonomy: Valuing both individual and group self-determination and identifying relationships of power that impact autonomy.
  • Education: Creating space to learn and building the confidence to teach so that the technology can empower community to engage with the public in clear, meaningful and responsible way.
  • Open science: Openness of the data and results of various researches can pose danger but it is necessary to ensure secured openness of the results for a better collaboration among researchers.
  • Transparency: Transparency is one of the major ethical concerns that are encountered. It is necessary to be transparent about the results, ethical conflicts and the funding mechanism.
  • Data privacy: Privacy is equally important as do the need of new technology. Ensuring the sovereignty of data and treating stakeholders as peers should be one of the priority.
  • Safety: Safety of the bio-community is also important. The researchers are important assets for the future development in the technology. It is to be ensured that they are provided with the safe environment for their research.
  • Justice and fairness: Engendering justice and fairness in practice and avoiding perpetuating systems of winners and losers. The new technology should be for the greater good of humanity rather than the technological advancement race between the countries.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Respecting the diversity of the global community and inclusion of the under privileged must be a priority.
  • Accountability: The biotechnology community needs to be accountable for the actions that it takes. It is their responsibility to ensure that the unethical practices are not followed.

Conclusion:

It is hearting to note that the scientific community is working towards consideration of the ethical concerns along with the technological advancements. Such steps are whole-heartedly welcomed.

Source: https://www.livemint.com/opinion/columns/the-fast-evolving-ethical-conundrums-of-biotechnology-11573495246351.html

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