Swiss legacy applied to our project

I did research about laws in Switzerland because I wanted to understand what we are allowed to do with a GMO in Switzerland and if we will be allowed to do with our prototype.

There is a complete and detailed presentation explaining the questions, the legal framework (swiss and international) and the solutions we found for our prototype. You can read the presentation here: Legacy about GMO in Switzerland

For the lazy 😉 here is a summary of the presentation:

The questions related to our project are:

  • —What are we allowed to do? Particularly, what are we allowed to take in the environment?
  • —What do we have to pay attention to? What do we have to protect and to what extent goes the protection?
  • —Will our research be legally usable?
  • We work with two domains: the environment in which we use the biosensor and the public health that is affected by Arsenic presence in water. Knowing that, which domain do we have to give the priority to?


The problems we are facing with our biosensor are:

  • It is a GMO -> as it is a sensitive subject, there are many regulations. There are also many fears and opinions in the society about GMOs.
  • There is a gene inducing a resistance to an antibiotic (kanamycin) -> it is potentially dangerous if the gene is transmitted to other pathogenic bacterias because kanamycin is use in human medicine.
  • These two points lead to questions about what we can legally/ethically do.
  • We also have to think what to do with the waste.

Juridically, the framework has basically been set up in order to answer the problems about alimentary GMOs. We also found some laws that treat research with organisms containing some particular paragraphs about genetically modified microorganisms such as the bacteria we use.

At an international level, we find two principles that governs the laws related to alimentary GMOs and GMOs in general:

  • precautionary-principlePrecaution principle, mostly used in the European Union (If there is any risk of serious or irreversible damage, the absence of absolute scientific certainty must not serve as pretext to postpone adoption of effective measures to prevent environment degradation.)
  • Substantial equivalence principle, mostly used in the USA (It statuates that if an alimentary coumpound is essentially similar to an existing coumpound, it can be treated the same manner concerning security.)

We then also find protection measures and procedures to get an authorization for a product.

In Switzerland, there are two ordinances and one theme from the Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety that can be applied to our project:

The purpose of these ordinances is to protect humans, animals, the environment and its biologic diversity from threats resulting form the use of organisms, their metabolites and their waste. The incidence they have on our project is that they give restrictions on the way we will build and use our biosensor. Especially:

  • eprouvetteOur biosensor bacteria must be confined because of its resistance to kanamycin.
  • Confinement = constant existence of a physical or a chemical barrier  between the environment and the organism.
  • We must think of the sample-holder to respect this compulsory confinement and how to put water in contact with the bacteries without breaking the confinement of the bacteries.
  • We must manage the waste in order that they remain confined and are destroyed accordingly with the law (autoclaved).
  • We have to notify the authorities what we are doing at least at the beginning of the activities.
  • We have to inform if there is any accident
  • We have to name someone responsible of the biologic security

Furthermore, we have to think not only of the laws but also of the society and its opinions. Because we are working with a GMO and that many people are afraid of the consequence of the use of biotechnologies in the environment, we have to be aware to avoid a potential scandal. It is important to inform people and guarantee the confinement to forestall fears. It is also important to have the support of the authorities and the security department of our schools.

2 thoughts on “What about laws?

  1. Pingback: Semester Wrap-up at EPFL | biodesign for the real world

  2. Pingback: New team’s first post! | biodesign for the real world

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