Team:INSA-UPS France/HP/Silver

Human Practices Logbook

Our ethical reflexion in several steps

This several steps show three dimensions of our ethical reflexion:

  • Effectiveness: the extent to which an established goal is achieved
  • Efficiency: the ratio between the goal achieved and the effort required
  • Human welfare: health, environment, welfare of users

Our ethical reflexion consists of several steps but it is not a linear process. It is an iterative process about: formulating a technical and moral problem, distinguishing stakeholders, looking at ethical aspects.

Ref. : Van de Poel, I. and Royakkers L. (2011). Ethics, Technology and Engineering. An introduction.

Click on the numbers to see the different steps of our human practices activities


1 - On the track of antimicrobial peptides

January 25th

The abundant bibliography done to find a subject led us to antimicrobial peptides because they are thought to be a solution to prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria. More specifically, we found some interesting features about crocodiles antimicrobial peptides because they have a wide range of action, efficiently killing all kinds of bacteria.

February 16th

After focusing on them, the next question was to find whether they were safe for humans.

After verifying this important characteristic, we came up with a first device idea, a concrete application for our idea. It is a bacteria-containing-bandage able to produce the peptides. A great advantage would be for it to produce the peptides only upon detection of a pathogen to avoid the overproduction of them. Thus the idea would be to design a bacteria able to detect and kill a pathogen.

March 9th

Another problem appears: this kind of bandage has already been made in a previous iGEM competition, we need to find a more innovative solution. We could not continue with something that has already been done.

2 - Choice of the subject

March 30th

The candidates antimicrobial peptides are particularly efficient against V. cholerae, causing cholera. Thus we chose this bacterium as our pathogen of interest. Bacteria can be detected by other ones thanks to the quorum sensing machinery. The combination of the needs of a prokaryotic detector and an eukaryote producer led us to a major innovation, the creation of an eukaryote-prokaryote communication to create a multimicrobial system. This synthetic communication does not exist in nature and made us wonder about our responsibility creating such a system. We had  a deeper understanding in our reflexion about the implications of creating a new type of collaboration.

April 6th

Our idea was to create a device shaped like a cocktail shaker, containing engineered microorganisms system. By putting the contaminated water inside and shaking, the said water is treated and V. cholerae killed. This device would be used by tourists travelling to risky countries and wanting to travel off the beaten tracks.

3 - Meeting with DWB regional manager

June 19th

Based on her field knowledge on cholera epidemics, a regional manager of Doctors Without Borders answered our questions.

Firstly, she stated that the african population is used to face cholera epidemics twice a year during rainy seasons. Thus this population knows the symptoms and reacts to the first ones. The infected patients immediately seek the care of NGOs. These NGOs are then able to cure them quite efficiently and to curate the infected well. Some people still die from cholera when they are particularly old or young, or when it takes them too long to reach help.

After these explanations it appeared clear that no diagnostic system is required. Furthermore, large-scale water treatment installations already exist in cities and our solution wouldn’t be competitive. A small, portable, convenient device seemed more relevant, to treat water in remote areas.

Finally she said that the population takes all the measures to prevent the tourists from being infected to avoid a negative publicity, this called our project aiming for tourists into question.

4 - Contextual setting on the cholera living cycle

June 20th

After our discussion with a DWB representative, we made a schematic view of the cholera living cycle in Africa, to point the problem of a cholera epidemic, and understand at which step of this cycle we must act to stop the epidemic.

5 - A device in agreement with the public

June 20th

Working on a humanitarian subject, our first idea was to sensibilise people around us on cholera epidemics in Africa. We wanted to evaluate what people knows about this disease. As we wanted to make a user friendly device that contain our system, we needed to question the population. Our main interrogation was to know if people would be willing to use a system containing GMOs, and then will they drink the treated water or not.

To get answers, we’ve created a survey made to do both evaluate people’s knowledge about cholera and arouse their curiosity about it, and estimate how people apprehending the use of GMOs in such a device.

6 - Being useful for the fight against cholera

June 22th

Meeting with all the team members and supervisors: final choice of the global device purpose

By agreement with all the supervisors, and taking the advices from our meeting with DWB, we decided to set our focus on designing a device to treat a quite small volume of water for remote villages, abandoning the device for tourists.

7 - Making a safe device

June 28th, Meeting with the CEO of Sunwaterlife, a water treatment firm

We firstly contacted this company because it is a specialist in water treatment and we wanted pieces of advice to construct our device. Sunwaterlife is developing filters to treat water thanks to solar energy. As their main field of activity is filtration, the CEO offered us the company expertise in terms of membranes. Indeed we need a trustworthy containment membrane to isolate the engineered microorganisms from drinking water.

If the lay population is required to handle our device we need it to be resistant to tearing in order to prevent the spreading of these microorganisms. The previously proposed membrane allows the containment but might not resist shocks or rough handling, thus the CEO suggested to enclose this microorganisms-containing membrane bag inside a cylindrical hollow tube to protect the membrane. This suggestion was adopted because it increased the safety of our project.

Click here to see our scope statement!

8 - First draft of our ethical matrix

June 30th

After deciding multiple features of our device, we realised that these decisions needed to be taken according to different stakeholders of the project. Upon this observation and with the help of Marie-Pierre Escudie our ethician instructor, we decided to use an ethical decision making tool, an ethical matrix. The ethical matrix takes into account the stakeholders and ethical values that we defined as important (and not necessarily always the three traditional ethical values)1,2. This tool allows the identification and assessment of challenges arising from stakeholders. In our project it permitted us to take rational decisions according to concrete problems.

Doing a first version of this ethical matrix we identified around ten stakeholders and defined about as much values to analyze their overlap.

  1. Schroeder, D. and Palmer, C. (2003). Technology assessment and the 'ethical matrix'. Poiesis & Praxis, 1(4), pp.295-307.
  2. Kaiser, M., Millar, K., Thorstensen, E. and Tomkins, S. (2007). Developing the ethical matrix as a decision support framework: GM fish as a case study. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 20(1), pp.65-80.

9 - Skype with DWB cholera’s specialist

July 14th

He confirmed the conclusions we previously drew about our project. We learnt a lot more about cholera epidemiology in general. Moreover we spoke about the differences between the African and the Asian continent concerning cholera epidemics, these populations react in different ways to the disease. For example people in Asia develop resistance to cholera because it’s mainly affecting adults, in Africa, children are the most affected, thus they are more fragile and need medical help to overcome the disease. Moreover, Cholera in Africa is epidemic, and endemic in Asia. Thus we realised that we need to adopt different strategies to introduce our device to these populations. By choice we decided to focus on the African countries because they globally have the same structures and problems.

10 - Ethical matrix 2.0

July 19th

As the first version of the ethical matrix was being completed, we realised that in the way it was done it did not fit our expectations. The values identified were too concrete and it resulted in a practical analysis of challenges, leading us to a scope statement instead of ethical problems identification and ethical questioning.

Thus we refocused the analysis in the three main ethical values: autonomy, well-being and fairness as described by Mepham and Cotton3,4.

  1. Mepham, B., Kaiser, M., Thorstensen, E., Tomkins, S. and Millar, K. (2006). Ethical matrix manual.
  2. Cotton, M. (2009). Evaluating the 'Ethical Matrix' as a Radioactive Waste Management Deliberative Decision-Support Tool. Environmental Values, 18(2), pp.153-176.

11 - Confront our project to iGEM community

July 21th:  Parisian meetup

During this french meetup we had the opportunity to expose the first steps of our project to the other teams and to a judging panel. This was a great challenge preparing us to explain our choices. It also highlighted some breaches in our reflexion. In consequence we decided to clearly state the life cycle of our device, from production to waste treatment, identifying the major steps and stakeholders. We quickly realised that at each step ethical questions were at play. The ethical matrix was thus combined to the life cycle and examined to take decisions about it. It resulted in multiple ethical matrices emphasizing challenges to overcome. We proposed leads or concrete solutions to each of them, modifying the device accordingly.

Presentation of the stakeholders in the development of our technology

  • Actor: any person or group that can make a decision how to act and that can act on that decision. As actor, we want also introduce nonhumans (environment).
    → IGEM Team, environment, non stakeholders, future generation
  • Users: People who use a technology and who may formulate certain wishes or requirements for the functioning of a technology.
    → Local users, NGO
  • Regulators: Organizations who formulate rules or regulations that engineering products have to meet such as rulings concerning health and safety, but also rulings linked to relations between competitors.
    → NGO, government, WHO

Ref.: Van de Poel, I. and Royakkers L. (2011). Ethics, Technology and Engineering. An introduction.

12 - Integrated ethical matrix

August 28th

Take the advices from the Parisian meetup, and from the different interviews with NGOs members, we’ve imagined a potential life cycle of our product. To do this, we used our work on the “Ethical Matrix 2.0”, taking the different stakeholders that will be directly in contact with our product and made an interaction map to see in a schematic way the circuit of our product from the sale, to the waste management.

After identifying the concrete life cycle of our product we realised it would be interesting to apply the ethical matrix to each step of the process. We started by filling the matrix globally for our product, it gave a complete matrix with a lot of elements to analyse. Indeed at each steps the stakeholders interact differently with each other resulting in various issues.

This reflexion resulted in 7 different ethical matrices, each specific to one step of the life cycle of our product. It allowed us to analyse in a more detailed way the ethical challenges.

Click here to see the description of our 7 integrated ethical matrix

13 - Skype with UNICEF

September 22th

  • Context

We’ve meet Alama Keitha from UNICEF who was on mission in Niger, where a cholera epidemic is ongoing. He depicts us a worrying situation in Africa : nowadays, epidemic peaks are frequent during the dry season, while it was unthinkable few years ago. This situation is alarming because NGOs can’t predict when epidemy will occurs, that makes more and more difficult the management of the disease outbreak. Multiplying prevention activities on hygiene, NGOs are trying to stop the epidemic has its origin. In the case of an endemic country, NGOs use to come every rainy season : all the villages are attached to a health center, but the personal representative came rarely into remote areas because of the lack of personal. In the case of emergency, NGOs sometimes uses small water stations near rivers.

  • Advices about our project Croc’n cholera

As the DWB regional manager we’ve meet, Alama pointed out that the best way to fight against a cholera epidemic is by giving to the population the mean to prevent themselves against the disease at home. In this matter, our device Croc’n cholera is a good system to treat water.

Alama told us that NGOs won’t distribute GMOs products because when NGOs will have no control on potential misuse of the population, for example it will be problematic if people discarded the membrane containing GMOs anywhere. So if we want to use this system in the real life, it would be necessary to educate the population on what kind of product it is and how to use it. This conversation leads us to think we’ll need to make a user manual for the daily user.

See the 2 user manuals at the bottom of this page!

14 - Survey


We created a survey to get more insights into the public perception of cholera and its expectation toward a device to treat drinkable water. The survey was filled in by 510 persons. Analysis was performed with the help of Sandrine Laguerre using the “R” freeware with packages library(ggplot2) and library(FactoMineR).

See our complete analysis there.

Global conclusion

In our opinion, knowledge about cholera is fairly good in the population, especially over 30 years old. This is associated with a higher concern about this problematic for people over 30. People are ok with the use of GMOs to treat water, especially the ones with a scientific background, which underlines that education is of the essence in the GMOs perception by the general public. The survey also provides interesting elements about the design our device, and subsequently, of our global strategy (from GMOs use to merchandizing).