John Kim UCLA

Ethics and Biotechnology – Balancing Innovation with Safety

John Kim of UCLA explains why biotechnology researchers must take steps to ensure their innovations balance innovation with safety.

As increasingly numerous applications of biotechnology allow for greater strides in medicine and agriculture, several ethical concerns limit researchers’ abilities to test methods as frequently and fully as they might prefer. To combat the issue, researchers must take steps to ensure their innovations remain safe and secure.

John Kim of UCLA explains that most ethical concerns in biotechnology revolve around the issues of altering nature to the potential point of causing ecological harm, informed consent in experimental clinical trials, the collection of personal genetic information, and the accidental release of pathogens. These must be countered through both legislation and proactive security protocols.

Because the ethical concerns surrounding biotechnology number so high, it’s important to go over a few of their broad categories before endeavoring to find solutions to them.

Ethical Concerns in Biotechnology

The ethical considerations of biotechnology vary somewhat depending upon the field within which it’s being applied. For instance, in the field of agriculture, ethical concerns might include:

  • Experimental bacteria escaping the lab and affecting surrounding soil
  • Alterations to plants and animals that defy natural occurrences
  • Harm to the environment if an experiment has unintended consequences
  • Causing random mutations, such as when trying to sterilize insects
  • Negative impact on agricultural supply chains
  • Disruptions to the natural ecological balance
John Kim UCLA

In medicine, the public often takes the potential effects of biotechnology even more seriously. Ethical concerns are raised frequently, and many innovations are resisted with passionate ferocity. A few ethical concerns to account for in this area are:

  • Release of personal genetic information for use in medicinal research
  • Escape of pathogens or viruses leading to disease outbreaks
  • The high cost of drugs and treatments created through biotechnology
  • Discovery of synthetic viruses or organisms that can be used for bioterrorism
  • Unnatural alterations to or creation of human beings, such as cloning

Making Biotechnology More Ethical

To some degree, applied scientists and researchers are already forced into some measure of ethical practice by imposed legislation. For instance, the Biological Weapons Committee has been banning the development and stockpiling of bioweapons since 1975.

Such restrictions, however, do not entirely prevent safety and security threats from arising. Just as protocols for safe practices when researching viruses will not provide full-proof incident prevention, the BWC cannot stop independent bioterrorists from developing their own weapons. Bioterrorism has existed since the Middle Ages. It does not require a laboratory.

The best way to alleviate ethical concerns in biotechnology is simple, albeit time-consuming. Researchers must simply hold themselves accountable for preventing the above issues from occurring and show the public over time that their methods are safe. If identifying undue risk of safety or security occurrences, they should pull the plug on a project themselves.


Ethical concerns over biotechnology may always raise suspicions among government and the general public. However, better accountability on the part of researchers to prevent the escape of pathogens or bacteria, foresee possible ecological disruptions, and safeguard information can improve not only the safety of their innovations, but also public perception.

By John Kim UCLA

John Kim UCLA

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