Engineering Life: Synbio, Bioethics & Public Policy

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Description

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About this course: Synbio is a diverse field with diverse applications, and the different contexts (e.g., gain-of-function research, biofuels) raise different ethical and governance challenges. The objective of this course is to increase learners’ awareness and understanding of ethical and policy/governance issues that arise in the design, conduct and application of synthetic biology. The course will begin with a short history of recombinant DNA technology and how governance of that science developed and evolved, and progress through a series of areas of application of synbio. Content will be presented in many forms, including not only reading and lectures, but also recorded and live in…

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Didn't find what you were looking for? See also: Policy Studies, Engineering, Software / System Engineering, International Politics, and Gender Studies.

When you enroll for courses through Coursera you get to choose for a paid plan or for a free plan

  • Free plan: No certicification and/or audit only. You will have access to all course materials except graded items.
  • Paid plan: Commit to earning a Certificate—it's a trusted, shareable way to showcase your new skills.

About this course: Synbio is a diverse field with diverse applications, and the different contexts (e.g., gain-of-function research, biofuels) raise different ethical and governance challenges. The objective of this course is to increase learners’ awareness and understanding of ethical and policy/governance issues that arise in the design, conduct and application of synthetic biology. The course will begin with a short history of recombinant DNA technology and how governance of that science developed and evolved, and progress through a series of areas of application of synbio. Content will be presented in many forms, including not only reading and lectures, but also recorded and live interviews and discussions with scientists, ethicists and policy makers. Learners will have the opportunity to think, write and talk about the issues and challenges in their own work and in real-life case examples. A final project will engage students in the development of governance models for synbio.

Who is this class for: This course is targeted to trainees and professionals in synthetic biology, though others familiar with the science may also find the course interesting, accessible and useful. All materials are in English, so English reading and speaking proficiency is necessary.

Created by:  Johns Hopkins University
  • Taught by:  Debra JH Mathews, PhD, MA, Assistant Director for Science Programs

    Berman Institute of Bioethics
Level Intermediate Commitment 6 weeks of study, 2-4 hours/week Language English How To Pass Pass all graded assignments to complete the course. User Ratings 5.0 stars Average User Rating 5.0See what learners said Coursework

Each course is like an interactive textbook, featuring pre-recorded videos, quizzes and projects.

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Johns Hopkins University The mission of The Johns Hopkins University is to educate its students and cultivate their capacity for life-long learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world.

Syllabus


WEEK 1


Welcome to Engineering Life: SynBio, Bioethics & Public Policy



1 video, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: Course Introduction
  2. Reading: Syllabus: Engineering Life
  3. Discussion Prompt: Personal Experience - Week 1


Recombinant DNA Technology: Science and History



We start the course by learning a bit about the history and context of the development of recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology in the 1970s, the ethics and policy issues raised by that science, and how those issues remain with us today in synthetic biology. The work of the week includes lecture videos, readings, and an interview with LeRoy Walters, who was involved in the discussions and debates about rDNA in its early years. The week will conclude with a quiz.


8 videos, 1 reading expand


  1. Video: Week 1 Introduction
  2. Reading: Week 1 Readings
  3. Video: A Brief History of rDNA
  4. Video: A Brief History of Asilomar & the RAC
  5. Video: Interview: Dr. LeRoy Walters (Part 1)
  6. Video: Interview: Dr. LeRoy Walters (Part 2)
  7. Video: Interview: Dr. LeRoy Walters (Part 3)
  8. Video: Relevant Contemporary Policy Context
  9. Video: The Emergence of SynBio
  10. Discussion Prompt: Week 1: What Surprised You?

Graded: Week 1 Quiz

WEEK 2


GOF Research



In Week 2 we will learn about and discuss gain of function (GOF) research and the dual-use concerns raised by synthetic biology. The work of the week includes lecture videos, a number of outside videos, and readings. The assessment this week will be your first peer-assessed project, and will focus on identifying ethical duties related to GOF research policy.


6 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Video: Week 2 Introduction
  2. Reading: Week 2 Readings
  3. Discussion Prompt: Personal Experience - Week 2
  4. Video: Gain of Function Research
  5. Video: Dual Use Research
  6. Video: GOF Research Case Study: H5N1
  7. Video: Ethical Issues Raised by GOF Research
  8. Video: Governance and GOF Research
  9. Reading: Additional Video Content
  10. Discussion Prompt: Week 2: What Surprised You?

Graded: Identifying Ethical Issues

WEEK 3


Biofuels



This week, we’ll learn about biofuels, the complex task of balancing the many ethical issues they raise, and the role of synthetic biology in biofuels development. The work of the week includes lecture videos, one outside video, readings, and an interview with Deborah Scott about biofuels governance. The week will conclude with a quiz.


7 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Video: Week 3 Introduction
  2. Reading: Week 3 Readings
  3. Discussion Prompt: Personal Experience - Week 3
  4. Video: Biofuels
  5. Video: Applications
  6. Video: Case Study
  7. Video: Ethical Issues Raised by SynBio-based Biofuels
  8. Video: Interview: Deborah Scott, PhD, JD (Part 1)
  9. Video: Interview: Deborah Scott, PhD, JD (Part 2)
  10. Reading: Additional Video Content
  11. Discussion Prompt: Week 3: What Surprised You?

Graded: Week 3 Quiz

WEEK 4


Human Health



This week we will learn a bit about applications of synthetic biology to human health, and the ethics of human subjects research. The work of the week includes lecture videos, one outside video, and readings. The assessment this week will be your second peer-assessed project, and will build on your first project, from Week 2. This project will focus on identifying stakeholders in a policy decision, their interests in the decision, and the related ethical duties of the decision-maker.


7 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Video: Week 4 Introduction
  2. Reading: Week 4 Readings
  3. Discussion Prompt: Personal Experience - Week 4
  4. Video: Synbio in Human Health
  5. Video: Human Genetic Modification
  6. Video: Case Study: Artemisinin
  7. Video: Case Study: GM Mosquitos
  8. Video: Ethical Issues Raised by SynBio-based Medical Applications
  9. Video: Governance of SynBio-based Medical Applications
  10. Reading: Additional Video Content
  11. Discussion Prompt: Week 4: What Surprised You?

Graded: Stakeholder Analysis

WEEK 5


Governance



In the final week of the course, we will talk about both models of governance for emerging biotechnologies and the role of public engagement in the development and oversight of the science. The work of the week includes lecture videos, one outside video, and readings, as well as interviews with LeRoy Walters and Jane Calvert. The final course project builds on the Week 2 and 4 peer-assessed projects, and goes a step further, asking you to develop and defend a decision-making process for a government policy related to the release of genetically modified mosquitoes.


8 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Video: Week 5 Introduction
  2. Reading: Week 5 Readings
  3. Discussion Prompt: Personal Experience - Week 5
  4. Video: Governance & Engagement in SynBio
  5. Video: Governance Models
  6. Video: Public Engagement
  7. Video: Interview: Dr. LeRoy Walters on Governance and Recombinant DNA
  8. Video: Interview: Dr. LeRoy Walters on the Importance of Relationships to the Field of SynBio
  9. Video: Interview: Dr. Jane Calvert (Part 1)
  10. Video: Interview: Dr. Jane Calvert (Part 2)
  11. Reading: Additional Video Content
  12. Discussion Prompt: Week 5: Concluding Thoughts

Graded: Final Project
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