Human Practices


The need for questions

The field of Synthetic Biology is relatively new, and so its long-term implications are the subject of debate.

How will Synthetic Biology impact our environment, how we source our food, and society in general? And is Synthetic Biology a genuine solution to a problem, or just a solution in search of a problem?

If our project is to have both credibility and longevity it is important that we ask these questions. The answers may challenge us, but this process is necessary if we are to deepen our understanding and advance the field. With that in mind, we have chosen to conduct our whole project as a feasibility study, not only into the biology, but also into the design, economics, and social implications of industrial plants making use of that biology.

Biorefineries: design and economics

The biological side of our project is based on the degradation of cellulose — an abundant, recalcitrant material — and converting it into useful products. This would occur in a "biorefinery".

It is not enough to simply show that the biology can work. The project must also be economically viable, and a practical design for a biorefinery must be created. For this, see the Biorefinery page.

Biorefineries: life cycle analysis

We attempted an environmental analysis of biorefineries, using the technique of Life Cycle Analysis to follow the fate of everything that interacts with the biorefinery.

Biorefineries: social implications

The broader social implications of the project must be considered. We have made contact with and interviewed a number of different figures from various fields: environmentalism, business, academia, politics, and the Church. All of these people are involved, one way or another, in the debate surrounding Synthetic Biology. For this, see:

Edinburgh and the iGEM Community

An altogether different society is the Synthetic Biology community, and we have naturally interacted with other members of it.

Early on, we created our Wiki Watch page, which we hope has been of assistance to other teams looking to collaborate on similar projects. Later, we collaborated with another team debugging and assaying a BioBrick. We also helped update the Registry with information on previous years' parts. See the Collaboration page.