Stanford iGEM Team Wiki


DiCE: With Power Comes Responsibility

Section One

Directed evolution is an incredibly powerful tool, but one that needs to be handled with the utmost care; the reaches of this tool still haven’t been fully explored, and its potential for misuse cannot be understated. Going into this summer, our team knew that we would have to find ways to ensure that this tool is used responsibly in the future.


Our concept for a chassis-agnostic version of directed evolution has implications beyond even that of normal directed evolution: the ability to conduct this process in a cell-free environment (or any organism available) with little effort opens this ability up to almost anyone with experience in genetic engineering were it to become commercialized. The potential of QB to revolutionize the way that proteins are created is incredible in both its scope and magnitude, and for that reason we had to consider ways one would ensure that such a mechanism would be used responsibly.

We started this conversation by consulting the expert resources we were fortunate enough to have access to. We discussed project ideas extensively with seasoned bioengineers Dr. Stanley Qi (our P.I.) and Dr. Paul Vorster to ensure that we were proceeding with project lines that not only could help us prove our concept for DiCE, but were also ethical. We met with Dr. Megan Palmer, a CISAC research scholar and former iGEM head of Human Practices, to continue our discussion of user impact and communicating our ideas.

One of the areas that came up in these discussions was the use of intellectual property rights as a mechanism to thoughtfully managing who has access to such a technology. We started by exploring how I.P. laws and idea ownership have created dissent not only in the iGEM community, but also the genetic engineering community at large as open access within the field broadens and develops from its relative infancy into a fully realized discipline.


Section Two

Keeping Our Team Safe in the Lab:

Theorizing about the myriad future ramifications of our novel directed evolution system is meaningless if we do not first think about the safety of ourselves and others with our immediate lab work. While doing our research this summer we continually consulted our lab safety manager Mong Saetern and our lab director Dr. Jeffery Tok. Before beginning work in the Uytengsu Teaching Lab, every team member had to undergo an online training program designed by Stanford for working in a BSL-1 lab, as well as an in-lab training session with Ms. Saetern.

For a more in depth description of our exploration of the intersection between iGEM and intellectual property rights, check out our Integrated Human Practices webpage!

Team Pic

In addition to being trained in using all lab equipment (Bunsen burners, fume hoods, sharps) we also ensured that all chemicals our team personally needed were stored in a labeled secondary container with an inventory list. We stored the container in a nearby fume hood and had Ms. Saetern check it almost every day for safety violations. In addition to the human component of the lab, we also had to think about our local environment; We made sure to bleach everything with biological contaminants before it was poured, had a designated container for any chemical waste, used water as our solvent whenever allowed, and participated in a glove recycling program to reduce our environmental impact. Living next to the ocean gave our team a unique perspective on how our actions in lab affects the land and animal life around us, and informed all our lab safety practices. To even further reduce any possible threat to biodiversity, our team has even started conversations with Dr. Tok about using non-native amino acids in our protein engineering processes to reduce risk of biological waste possibly proliferating if accidentally released into the environment.

Team Pic