Legacy applied to our project

Working in a lab is not the same as going in the field and working with a genetically modified organism complicates even more the problem regarding applicable laws. When working in a lab, some basic legal principles exists and must be applied, but they are obvious because they concern security. When going into the field, principles about the safeguard of th environment applied as much as principles about public health. Furthermore, we work with a GMO, a sensitive subject concerned by even more laws. Hence, we have to carefully take care of the legacy applicable to our project even if we have to find which laws concern our project and interpret them because our case is special.

There are also ethical problems we have to face, mostly because we want to work in the environment with a GMO having a antibiotic resistance gene but with a public health purpose.

We did research about laws in Switzerland. The first goal of this research was to understand what we are allowed to do with a GMO in Switzerland and if we will be allowed to do anything with our prototype. As the problem is more complex than jus a yes-or-no answer, we had to examine the questions, the legal framework (swiss and international) and the solutions we could find for our prototype.

The beginning of the work about laws is to specify the questions related to our project. They act as a framework or guidelines during the research. In our case, we defined:

Having defined the questions, we also observe what are the problems we are facing with our biosensor. Indeed, the concept of our biosensor is to produce fluorescence proportional to Arsenic concentration in water, but this fluorescence is due to a gene from the jellyfish that has been introduced by genetical engineering techniques into the bacteria; this makes the bacteria a GMO. The problems are related to our questions and the laws we imagined to find.

Juridically, the framework has basically been set up in order to answer the problems about alimentary GMOs. We also found some laws that treat research with organisms containing some particular paragraphs about genetically modified microorganisms such as the bacteria we use. But these laws are not exactly corresponding to our example because the laws on alimentary GMOs concern organisms that have not any gene with an antibiotic resistance and laws about research with GMOs treat only research that happens in a laboratory.

At an international level, we find two principles that governs the laws related to alimentary GMOs and GMOs in general:

We then also find protection measures and procedures to get an authorization for a product. In fact, a GMO can be allowed in the environment if it satisfies a range of demands, the procedure to obtain the right to use a GMO in the environment is called an authorization. An authorization procedure involve:

In Switzerland, the principal argument is the protection. (The federal office of public health investigate, collaborating with other federal offices, autorisation demands: it gives autorisation only if all risks for health and environment is eliminated.) The confederation also function with a duty to inform, There is a need to communicate to the authorities any research, accident, change...

There are two ordinances and one theme from the Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety that can be applied to our project. The purpose of these ordinances is to protect humans, animals, the environment and its biologic diversity from threats resulting form the use of organisms, their metabolites and their waste. These ordinance regulate the use of organisms in general but contains also specific paragraphs about genetically modified organisms. We find them here:

The ordinances have the ability to define and clarify the terms we use in order to define what is concerned by which law. They also emphasize on the necessity to classify the organisms we work with and to make an evaluation of the risks and of the danger. The purpose of the evaluation is the diligence duty, that is: everyone must act with counsciousness and precautions that the situation demands to avoid that ogranisms or their waste put in jeopardy humans, animals and the environment and its sutainable use.

The incidence these ordinances have on our project is that they give restrictions on the way we will build and use our biosensor. Especially:

In a nutshell, we were looking what we are allowed to do and we discover that the legal demands forces us to think HOW to continue our research and build our prototype.

Furthermore, we have to think not only of the laws but also of the society and its opinions. Because we are working with a GMO and that many people are afraid of the consequence of the use of biotechnologies in the environment, we have to be aware to avoid a potential scandal. It is important to inform people and guarantee the confinement to forestall fears. It is also important to have the support of the authorities and the security department of our schools.

This chapter is adapted from the researches presented on our blog. There is a complete and detailed presentation we used for a specific presentation about this subject here: Legacy about GMO in Switzerland