Science Speaks - Blog by ISAAA

Nurturing Interest in Biotechnology: Teaching the Youth About Responsible Research

By Zabrina J. Bugnosen
May 17, 2023

Scientific advancement moves at a rapid pace. Every day, breakthroughs are made by researchers around the world and they motivate children and adolescents to venture into a scientific field of their choice. Various educational programs hone this interest and provide knowledge and skills that the youth need to become scientists. But fostering inquisitiveness and expertise may not be enough. Future leaders in the scientific community need to understand that science must be used for the improvement of society without posing threats to other living creatures and the planet.

The field of biotechnology provides the opportunity to develop plants, animals, and microbes with remarkable traits that can ease the effects of climate change, advance agriculture, promote food security, and improve human and animal welfare. The responsible use of these advantages should be nurtured alongside the passion to learn more within the next generation of scientists. Researchers from Princeton University are proposing to educate undergraduate and graduate students about the security and risks involved in biological research, and how they are mitigated. The courses that they are recommending can help establish biosecurity norms to reduce the possibility of misusing biology and biotechnology, and encourage ethically-guided and secure science that society can benefit from:

  1. The history of biosecurity will help the youth recognize various biothreats that have been used in the past. Biological weapon and research development began in the 20th century, wherein microbiology and delivery systems became part of state-level biological weapons programs. Analyzing the results and impacts of these threats will promote critical thinking to help identify lessons learned to prevent, mitigate, and contain future biothreats.
  2. Bioethics promotes appreciation of ethical transgressions in bioscience research. This is especially useful when evaluating research proposals and on-going research from a moral point of view. Future scientists should be both security and ethically conscious.
  3. Consequence-oriented thinking helps a scientist design experiments with a security-conscious approach, critically evaluate the motive and goals of a research, and assess how the public views these researches. Becoming consequence-oriented allows a scientist to see the bigger picture of his or her work. It can reduce the possibility of accidental exposure or lapses in biosafety from happening. It also determines if the motive of the research design is one-sided, or if the scientific discovery can be used as a threat. 
  4. Leadership and communication courses can enhance a future scientist’s skills in decision-making and team management. Having an effective leader and communicator provides any research team with the guidance on promoting responsible, safe, and sustainable research practices, while exhibiting scientific transparency throughout the process of investigation.
  5. Studying policies related to biotechnology and biosciences provides a future scientist with the vantage point of how and why the current rules and regulations surrounding biotechnology and the biosciences were developed. A deeper understanding of these regulations provides direction in designing researches while still encouraging the scientific freedom to discover.
  6. Human and scientific advancement are vital for aspiring scientists to achieve their noble intentions of curing diseases, saving lives, and making the environment safer and cleaner. Early on, the youth should be able to recognize, prevent or mitigate existential risks stemming from scientific advancements. Thus, achieving balance between promoting scientific discovery and investigating the natural order of things using safe and secure approaches is a must.

Education is a valuable tool that can help the younger generation comprehend past transgressions in research and identify the best research practices to create the first line of defense against the misuse of science. Reducing the risk of scientific advancements falling into the wrong hands promotes the safe and sustainable continuation of biotechnology and biosciences research.

For more information, download the full paper from BioDesign Research.

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