Ethical, Societal and Policy Aspects of Molecular Systems Engineering - NCCR MSE

Ethical, Societal and Policy Aspects of Molecular Systems Engineering

Scientific and ethical researchers join to identify ethical issues that involve all projects by debating them in an empirically well-informed and argumentatively sound way, and developing sound policy recommendations on how to deal with them.

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 results in an unprecedented level of interference with living nature and the human body.

The risks, benefits, uncertainties as well as novel ideas and paradigms related to this increased potential raise a large set of interesting ethical, societal and policy questions. Moreover, new technological developments resulting from projects involved might impact significantly on the daily lives of future generations and affect their view on the world.

The NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering opens and welcomes an interdisciplinary discussion of exciting and controversial philosophical issues that relate to all of its projects. This can include the meaning of concepts such as “nature”, “life”, “artificiality” or “design” and the relation of these concepts to human design at nanoscale and into the biological world, as well as the design and production of molecular machines and factories, the engineering of cellular functions, the construction of organic-inorganic hybrids and the use of directed evolution as a “designing aid”.

Another area of relevance is future applications with expected benefits and potential risks that may raise ethical and societal issues, e.g. diagnostic or therapeutic tools for medicine or applications towards the production of energy.

A bioethics training module tailored towards the needs of scientists will be developed and offered. Additionally, there are regular interaction and the exchange of experiences with the ethics and public relations office.


C. Ineichen, N. Biller-Andorno, A. Deplazes-Zemp “Image of Synthetic Biology and Nanotechnology: A Survey among University Students“ Front. Genet. 2017. [DOI]
H. Grimm, M. Eggel, A. Deplazes-Zemp, N. Biller-Andorno “The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions: Why Harm–Benefit Analysis and Its Emphasis on Practical Benefit Jeopardizes the Credibility of Research“ Animals 2017. [DOI]
D. Gregorowius, N. Biller‐Andorno, A. Deplazes Zemp, N. Biller-Andorno “The role of scientific self‐regulation for the control of genome editing in the human germline“ EMBO Rep. 2017, 18:355-58. [DOI]
D. Gregorowius, A. Deplazes-Zemp “Societal impact of synthetic biology: responsible research and innovation (RRI)“ Essays Biochem. 2016, 60:371-79. [DOI]
A. Deplazes Zemp “Artificial Cell Research as a Field that Connects Chemical, Biological and Philosophical Questions“ Chimia 2016, 6:443. [DOI]
A. Deplazes Zemp, D. Gregorowius, N. Biller-Andorno “Different Understandings of Life as an Opportunity to Enrich the Debate About Synthetic Biology“ Springer, Nanoethics 2015, 9:179. [DOI]

Project Leader

Nikola Biller-Andorno

Persons involved

Sebastian Wäscher