Students Learn Biosafety and Responsibility via Online Videos

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Students heading for careers in cutting-edge synthetic biology fields can now access important training in safety, responsibility, and ethics in two new online videos. The videos are based on training modules developed by the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), an NSF-funded center headquartered at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley.


SynBERC’s vision is to catalyze biology as an engineering discipline by developing the foundational understanding and technologies to allow researchers to design and build standardized, integrated biological systems to accomplish many particular tasks. Safety and responsibility go hand-in-hand with the field, and are required in the Synthetic Biology Undergraduate Certificate program. The two new videos¾”Biological Risk Assessment” and “Responsible Conduct in Synthetic Biology”¾make this important course content readily available to students and others.


In fall 2013, SynBERC Principal Investigators Chris Anderson and Terry Johnson completed the two online biosafety modules, which use video, content from a UC-Berkeley Synthetic Biology Lab Course (BioEng140L), materials created for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM)competition, and methodology developed by SynBERC’s Practices Group. In 2014, the videos were completed and posted on YouTube. Both modules will be incorporated into the Synthetic Biology Learning Trail, and fulfill the biosafety requirements of SynBERC’s Undergraduate Certificate program.

The “Biological Risk Assessment” video provides an overview of the rules that govern academic research in biological engineering projects, like recombinant DNA research. It provides a review of Biosafety Level (BSL) categories, a discussion of how we determine the risk of different kinds of projects, and an overview of considerations individual researchers should have about their own work in the context of risk and dual-use concerns. “Responsible Conduct in Synthetic Biology”provides a perspective on the unique features of synthetic biology that require special consideration beyond traditional biotechnology. It includes a discussion of how technologies like gene sequencing, gene synthesis, computational design, and the internet are accelerating and converging to pose new challenges to responsible innovation.