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Brynn F. Welch
Assistant Professor
Department of Philosophy
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Glowing Plants on Kickstarter: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology

This case study is centered on a real scenario from 2013 in which the Kickstarter fundraising platform included a fundraising proposal from a group wanting to use synthetic biology to make glowing plants. The proposal raised controversy because the Glowing Plant group offered to give away their genetically-modified glowing plant product to investors.  Kickstarter subsequently changed its policy to prevent use of genetically modified organisms as rewards or incentives to investors. This case study was developed for a college first-year seminar focused on the ethics of synthetic biology, and was introduced during the first week of the semester. The case uses the jigsaw teaching method to introduce students both to the mechanics of synthetic biology and to questions about how we should distribute the benefits and burdens associated with new or emerging technologies. It could be adapted for courses in introductory college biology, genetics or bioethics.