iGEM requires teams to answer safety-related questions about their proposed projects as part of their application for the competition, and judges are to consider the answers in assessing the proposals. The website includes references to various international, regional, and national policies and regulations related to biosafety. The potential for intentional misuse of research results is also addressed. The website includes references to the BWC as the key international legal agreement and to resources related to responsible conduct as well as national guidelines and regulations.24 Dr. Piers Millet from the BWC’s Implementation Support Unit serves as an iGEM judge and resource, and in 2010 a U.S.-French team received a special safety and security award for its development of screening software to identify whether DNA parts in the iGEM Standard Registry of Parts came from pathogens or toxins.25
According to its website, “One motivation for establishing DIYbio.org in advance of widespread amateur activity in the life sciences is to create a framework for best practices worldwide,” including resources on biosafety and norms of ethics and practice (http://diybio.org/safety). In the United States, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on a series of outreach activities to the amateur biology community. The meetings, which began in 2009, include researchers, FBI and other government officials, and members of the amateur biology community (AAAS, 2011). The FBI also has an active outreach program to U.S. iGEM teams.
Life sciences knowledge and research capacity continue to become more available to communities who operate outside of traditional settings. However, although commercial kits and services and other advances such as standardized DNA parts provide efficiencies and ease-of-use, when it comes to less highly trained practitioners, it is important to note that successful achievement of experimental goals generally relies on more than these products. Valuable knowledge and skills are also acquired through experience, and the importance of having these additional levels of knowledge increases with the complexity of the research projects undertaken.
24For example, the iGEM website contains a box suggesting that “as a participant in iGEM, there are three things you can do right now to help us secure our science:
• Include something in your project description and presentations that demonstrates that you have thought about how others could misuse your work
• Contribute to community discussions on what needs to go into a code against the use of our science for hostile purposes (see A Community Response)
• Look into what security provisions, such as laws and regulations, are already in place in your country (see Working within the Law).”