Team:Sorbonne U Paris/Integrated Human Practices

Integrated Human Practices

To better understand the ins and outs of our project and improve it we contacted many experts specialized in algae research field, legislations and ethics. Indeed, as students we needed to learn more about the possible limits of our project, think of ways to overpass them and imagine how to make it be conformed with society, law and scientific community's expectations and requirements.


interview overview

Hubert Bonnefond

Hubert Bonnefond: holds a Phd in oceanography and is the co-founder of a start-up called “Inalve”. The goal of his work is to naturally select ultra-productive microalgae strain to sell flour for animal feeding.


Mr. Bonnefond believes that, in addition to the fact that GMOs are forbidden or partially forbidden in France, French people also have a negative vision towards them. For these reasons, he insisted on the importance of the safety of our microalgae cultures, as serious environmental concern could arise if our microalgae was to be released in the sea.

What we learnt and how we used it

Thanks to this interview, we conceived a safety system to prevent the release of our strain into the environment. In fact, we improved our photobioreactor design to ensure its closure and its sealing. We therefore moved forward from our initial photobioreactor 3D prototype Newcastle helped us to design (see collaboration).

Theodolinda Fabrizi

Theodolinda Fabrizi: PhD student in water and environment law. She’s currently enrolled at the Doctoral School of International Law, European Law, International Relations and Comparative Law of the Panthéon-Assas University in Paris.


During our interview with her, we talked about our project general feasibility, with for example the possibility to cultivate algae in sea water. She confirmed us that in legal term, it was impossible to free our modified microalgae in seawater, according to the law in effect in France. Indeed, the legislations that regulates the use of GMO are very strict in the European Union. She highlighted the fact that the use of GMOs have to be proven completely risk free for the environment to be accepted. However, when it comes to use of living material, there is always a risk no matter how small.

What we learnt and how we used it:

This raised the question of scientific uncertainty. From this interview, we kept working on finding other safety systems for our photobioreactor and started to think about potential alternatives for a better use of our microalgae.

Anne-Sophie Lepeuple

Anne-Sophie Lepeuple: Head of the applied biotechnology department at Veolia. Veolia is a french multinational industry involved in environment protection.


Mrs Lepeuple told us that microalgae brought an added value only for the production of some specific molecules. Indeed, she explained us how difficult it was to develop new processes for inexpensive and effective extraction and collection of some molecules in algae. This is the reason why algae are generally not used to produce biofuel or sugar for instance. Besides, she thinks the means to avoid the spread of our algae or of the molecules they can export in the environment would be too expensive.

What we learnt and how we used it:

We started considering to produce other types of molecules than sugar into our Chlamydomonas. We had therefore to focus more on our retrotransposon’s development for our microalgae to be a chassis for a wider range of application.

Jonathan D. Trent

Jonathan D. Trent, Ph.D: is currently an assistant professor at UC Santa Cruz and scientist at NASA Ames Research Center.

He’s currently the director of the "OMEGA project” (Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae). OMEGA is an integrated "life-support" system for Spaceship Earth, an "ecology of technologies" in which wastes from one part of the system are resources for another part. It combines algae cultivation for biofuel, wastewater treatment, and carbon capture, with electricity and heat generation using solar energy, drinking water production by osmosis, and food production by aquaculture. It expands the human sphere of influence into coastal waters while reduce our impact on coastal ecosystems, to preparate the future generations for sea-level rise. OMEGA is a work-in-progress with many remaining challenges, but the goals are of critical importance: sustainable energy, water and food availability, and minimization of our environmental impact.


As an expert of the technological use of sea, we contacted him to have his opinion about our project, and discuss about its feasibility and the challenges it will face. He showed great interest in our project and gave us some clues about the needs our directed evolution tool could answer, such as:

  • Allow in increased resistance to temperature, with the goal to improve the growth of microalgae.
  • Better the abilities of Chlamydomonas to produce of Omega 3.
  • Create an enzyme to digest cell walls to ameliorate extraction procedures
  • Set up a selection system so that we would not have to worry about contaminations
  • The creation of a strain of microalgae able to grow in "semi-salty" waters used in some purification wastewater treatment station.
  • The production of molecules of interest in chlamydomonas, for example heat shock proteins

    • What we learnt and how we used it:

      From our discussion about the molecules of interest to produce and about the potential of our retrotransposon, we focused and deepened our work on our biological design. Moreover, he gave us some contacts of people he previously worked with and would also like to stay in touch with us after the iGEM competition. We are both excited for possible collaborations in the future.

      Stéphane Lemaire

      Stéphane Lemaire: Dr Stephane Lemaire works at CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). He’s studying Calvin’s cycle in microalgae and Chlamydomonas.


      We worked in his lab this summer. He has been very interested in our project. As we were concerned about the biocontainment system, we talked with him about a biocontainment system based on a non-natural amino acid.

      What we learnt and how we used it:

      Even though the idea was very interesting, it was complicated to realize it in a one year competition. Indeed, it would have needed to recode a codon, recode RNA transferase, etc … Otherwise, we will of course keep this meeting in mind and consider the ideas raised for a potential further development of our project.

      Aliaa El Dairouty

      Aliaa El Dairouty : She is a PhD student in public international law at Paris Saclay, at the doctoral school of Human Sciences and Society, in partnership with the General directorate of Armament. Her reading subject is about French and European law of the notion of scientific uncertainty. She was also one of the speakers at the conference we organised about the contribution of synthetic biology for the future.

      Here is a memorable quotation from her speech.

      “Scientific incertitude is a current state of scientific knowledge. I insist on the word current, because it’s at a defined moment. It is expected of scientists to be able in the future to give more and more informations based on their researches .(...) A recurrent object of scientific incertitude is the “possible risk”, here we are talking about possible but not confirmed risk, otherwise the technology would be forbidden”- Aliaa El Dairouty

      Based on here presentation, we can understand that we are not yet able to completely assess the possible risks of our system. Indeed we are limited by our scientific knowledge. Therefore we should search for ways to expand this knowledge about our system. We should consider all the possible risks to make sure that our project is as safe as possible, not only for ethical concerns but also to get legal approval to develop it.

      Alexei Grinbaum

      Alexei Grinbaum : He’s a researcher at the laboratory in philosophy of science (LARSIM) at CEA-Saclay. He is also a specialist in quantum physics and currently teaches ethics in science at ENTA, Evry University and the Institut Pasteur. In addition, he is a member of the commission of reflection on the ethics in scientific research and in digital science and technology (Cerna). He was one of the speakers at the conference we organised about the contribution of synthetic biology for the future.

      Here is a memorable quotation from her speech.

      “Biosafety is a crucial matter. In fact, in a couple of months a report will be a issued about the dual use of biotechnologies. Dual use if not about civilian nor military. It’s when you create something in biology to generate new knowledges while creating risks at the same time. (...) This is an important aspect of research we should not forget”- Alexei Grinbaum

      “ When confronted to novelty, we do tend to be afraid, until we are provided with a method to understand it and find it an utility. (...)Synthetic biology offers us novelty, and it’s up to us to find solutions to better understand it” - Alexei Grinbaum

      He agrees that our project, as many synthetic biology projects, might raise safety concerns, and it’s up to us to find the tools to better comprehend our system and the risks it might bring out as well as the solutions to insure its safety.