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Christine M. Fleet
Associate Professor
Biology Department
Emory & Henry College
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.

The Physiology of a Neurodegenerative Disease: Huntington's Disease

In this case, a young woman learns that her uncle has been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. She talks with her fellow graduate students to try to better understand the physiology of the disorder, along with the medical and personal implications for the patient and his caregivers. Students review scientific papers to help them address a series of guided questions about the symptoms and care; the roles of membrane potential, neurotransmitters and cell death; and experimental approaches to understanding the disease. The case encourages students to integrate ideas from a range of biology disciplines to develop a conceptual framework for what is currently known about Huntington's. Developed for an upper-level college physiology course, this case could also be appropriate for classes on cell biology, molecular biology, or genetics.