Principles and Practices

24th of August - Neil Gershenfeld (MIT), George Church (Harvard), Megan Palmer (Stanford)



  • 9:20 Last year's classes and course overview by David Kong
  • 9:40 Introduction of HTGAA and scope by George Church
  • 10:30 Megan Palmer on ethics & safety
  • 11:50 Information on next classes, lab logistics, and class mechanics

Class Assignments

Ethics and safety are essential considerations throughout (and beyond!) this class. We have therefore designed an assignment this week to give you a strong foundation, and then will ask you to reflect each week and in the design of your final project.

You can find suggestions for completing your assignments in this document.

First Week

As you are setting up your lab lab/space to grow (almost) anything, including for projects you are considering undertaking through the course, please answer the following questions on your class page. We also strongly suggest that you use these questions to create or update a guide for your lab.

  • Risk/Safety Level: What is the Safety Level of Your Lab (e.g. BSL1, BSL2, other)? Do you have different spaces with different safety levels? If so, describe which activities are done in different spaces. Include a picture of your lab. For help on safety and risk levels see the iGEM Risk Group Page
  • Work Area: Which work areas do you use for handling biological materials? (e.g open benches, biosafety cabinet, fume hoods etc)? Include a picture of your work spaces.
  • Training: Have you received, or will you receive, any ethics and/or safety training? Who provides this training? Briefly describe any topics covered.
  • Rules and Regulations: Which laws and regulations (locally, nationally and internationally) apply to your lab? Include links to any oversight institutions/organizations and policies, and describe which specific rules are pertinent to your lab and project and why.
  • Organization and Practices: How do you enforce these rules? Who is responsible for ensuring safety in you lab/space? What happens when safety issues are raised?
  • Uncertainties: Are there any areas where you are uncertain about how to apply these rules, and whether they are relevant to your lab and/or work?
  • Getting Help: Who can you work with to resolve any problems or uncertainties (both to figure out how you can adhere to standards and update them if needed)? How difficult are they to contact?
  • Beyond the Rules: Are there activities in your lab/project which you think may have ethical, safety or security concerns that are not fully covered by current rules and standards? If so, please briefly describe them.
  • Other Information: Is there anything else we should know about your lab?
  • BONUS: Designing for Safety and Ethics: Do you think the design of current regulations is sufficient to ensure safe and ethical practices? If not, how else could you approach the design? We’re interested in your ideas for strategies that could be used to promote safe and ethical practices as it becomes easier to grow almost anything (i.e. monitoring people or information, building safety into the design of equipment, etc). Can you think of any useful examples from other fields?

Every Week Thereafter

In a seperate section on your week 1 class page, answer the following question after each week's class:

  • Do your activities this week raise new ethics and/or safety considerations you had not considered in week 1? Describe what activities have raised these considerations and any changes you have implemented in your lab in response.

For Your Final Project

Find a creative way to reflect on the following question through the design of your final project:

  • How can you help prepare the world for many more people being able to grow (almost) anything?

Example Assignments

While the week 1 assignment was a bit less involved last year, here are a few examples:

Useful Resources