„La scuola di Atene“, by Raffaelo.
„La scuola di Atene“, by Raffaelo.

As with every journey into a new scientific field, the route to the destination is as yet unknown. Careful guidance, evaluation and – occasionally – regulation, can be valuable tools allowing for the voyage to continue safely. The NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering acknowledges the philosophical challenges that may arise during the course of its scientific endeavour and has integrated a permanent ethics focus into the research project.

Molecular systems engineering is a rapidly evolving field, cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries. The large extent to which technological aims and design strategies are applied to the biological systems produces results on an unprecedented level of interference with living nature and the human body. With a focus on the discovery and on the development of new molecular engineering principles, the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering aims to realize a paradigm shift in the production processes, in medical diagnosis and in treatment procedures.

The ethical focus will be placed particularly on the application of functional molecular modules to control cellular systems. However, the dynamics of this research - as is the case with any high profile scientific endeavor - will most likely invite further significant ethical challenges that could not be predicted during the planning stage and will need to be addressed.

Ethics in the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering is dedicated to an integrative approach. It:

a) serves as an advisory tool and supports individual project researchers whenever necessary;

b) promotes interdisciplinarity within the scientific moral discourse;

c) encourages the non-scientific community to engage actively in all related controversial issues of moral relevance.

Accordingly, a transdisciplinary approach bridging the gap between the different representatives of all science disciplines involved and the community is a pivotal task of the molecular systems engineering ethics. Only a common language - spoken and understood by each stakeholder - can guarantee communication on par.  

Basar Molekular

Basar Molekular is one of our platforms for discussing Molecular Systems Engineering research with the interested public. Twice a year leading members of this NCCR and opinion leaders representing fields such as the arts, politics, sport, religion etc. get together and hold an interactive discussion with a live audience in Basel. Three Swiss radio stations broadcast this event.

Read more about our previous talks and find the links to the podcasts here.

Art of Molecule

With ‘Art of Molecule’, Ethics for this NCCR provides a communications module by means of which an important group of society – artists and those interested in the arts - can question, analyze, criticize, interpret and ultimately help to shape the development of molecular factories. > more

Who works with whom?

Ralf Stutzki, PhD, from University of Basel, is the Head Ethics.


On the Brink of Shifting Paradigms, Molecular Systems Engineering Ethics needs to take a Proactive Approach is an article published in Chimia (6/2016). The authors are  Raheleh Heidaria, Bernice S. Elgera, and Ralf Stutzki, Head Ethics of this NCCR.

ICMSE 2017 Ethics talk: Open to the public

"Ethical challenges of synthetic biology"


  • Kai Kupferschmid, host and contributing correspondent for Science Magazine, Berlin
  • Renzo Pegoraro, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy Pro Vita at the Vatican in Rome
  • Joyce Tait, Innogen Institute, University of Edinburgh
  • Randall Platt, project leader, NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering.

More info and the complete audio file here.

Collaboration with other projects

All research projects within the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering are involved. The aim is to target key ethical issues as they arise in the course of the research.

Nikola Biller-Andorno, Professor and Director at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of Zurich, leads the scientific, integrated research project “Ethical, Societal and Policy Aspects of Molecular Systems Engineering” (WP4) and will study moral attitudes and concerns that may arise.