Molecular life science research makes major contributions to societal goals such as understanding and controlling human diseases, developing new medicines, materials and foods, as well controlling diseases of plants and animals. The public, policy makers and the media take interest in many issues related to the aims, outcomes and implications of such research, which often has an ethical dimension. Among recent publicly debated issues are vaccination, stem cell research, personalized medicine and genetically modified organisms.

The FEBS Science and Society Committee works at the interface between scientists, policy makers and the wider public with the following main aims:

  1. To contribute to shaping of effective science policy at the European level, for example by consulting with and acting as a unified voice for FEBS Constituent Societies and their members, or through collaborating with other European organizations with shared goals. Two main areas of interest are funding and regulation.
  2. To raise awareness among molecular life scientists of research developments and associated ethical/legal considerations in areas with high societal interest, for example through organizing a Science and Society session at the FEBS Congress on such a topic.
  3. To increase public understanding of science, for example by providing grants to FEBS Constituent Societies for public outreach activities in their countries.

Upcoming activities

‘Science and society’ activity/event proposals from FEBS Constituent Societies on the theme of ‘RNA solutions to genetic and infectious diseases’

The call for proposals from FEBS Constituent Societies for a grant of up to €1500 to run a ‘science and society’ event or activity in 2023 on the topic of ‘RNA solutions to genetic and infectious diseases’ closed on 15 January 2023. The funded project(s) will be announced here in due course.

Recent activities

FEBS support for ‘Science and Society’ Constituent Society events/activities on the theme of plastics

Expanding on the topic of ‘Plastics: revolution, pollution and substitution’ at the 45th FEBS Congress in 2021, and following a call for proposals, grants of €1500 from FEBS have been awarded by the FEBS Science and Society Committee to:

Special Session on Science & Society at the IUBMB–FEBS–PABMB Congress, Lisbon, July 2022 on ‘RNA solutions to genetic and infectious diseases’

The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed the first use in humans of vaccines based on the mRNA molecule, but the study of RNA-based vaccines had been carried out in labs for many years. Research has also been under way on the use of RNA as a therapeutic molecule to direct the synthesis of a protein that is missing or defective in genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and metabolic diseases, and these studies are already in clinical trials in patients. This new field of medicine has experienced unprecedented progress and there are now more than a dozen types of drugs based on the RNA molecule. Moreover, the development of nanoparticles for administration and delivery of the RNA molecule to the target tissue and inside the cell opens up a hopeful path for the prevention and treatment not only of infectious diseases and rare genetic diseases, but also for diseases as frequent as hyperlipidemia or cancer, as well as for neurodegenerative diseases, with no cure today.

Chairs: Emmanouil Fragkoulis, Greece; Enrique Viguera, Spain
• Introduction, Enrique Viguera, Spain
• The Dutch Center of RNA Therapeutics: developing mutation-specific antisense oligonucleotide therapies for patients with eye and brain diseases carrying unique mutations, Annemieke Aartsma-Rus, The Netherlands
• Applications, challenges and opportunities of RNA drugs, Lourdes R. Desviat, Spain
• Nucleic acid vaccines: a new era for RNA and DNA vaccines and immunotherapies, George Pavlakis, USA
• Discussion

Previous Science and Society session topics at recent FEBS Congresses

  • 2021 (Ljubljana – Virtual) Plastics: revolution, pollution and substitution
  • 2019 (Krakow) Personalised medicine: a future vision
  • 2018 (Prague) Healthy microbiome, healthy host?
  • 2017 (Jerusalem) The role of CRISPR in personalized medicine: legal and ethical problems

Other work and resources

Science policy

Under the umbrella of the BioMed Alliance, FEBS recently participated in efforts with other organizations to obtain from the EU the best research budget for the Framework Program FP9. After the completion of discussions on FP9, and the allocation of the budget to the three ‘pillars’ and ‘horizontal actions’, efforts are focused on informing Constituent Societies about possibilities being developed in Pillars I and II for applications to competitive programs, and, with organizations such a the BioMed Alliance, inputting into criteria for programs and reviewer selection.

The past role of FEBS, together with other research organizations in Europe, in working towards the creation of the European Research Council  (ERC) for investigator-driven funding within Europe is described in Celis, J.E. and Gago, J.M. (2014) Shaping science policy in EuropeMol. Oncol. 8, 447–457

Research Integrity: A Code of Conduct

Ethical conduct is demanded in all activities supported by FEBS. Given increased concerns among scientists and the public about good research practice, and following discussion of codes of conduct by the FEBS Science and Society Committee, FEBS decided to subscribe to the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, prepared by the European Science Foundation/All European Academies. FEBS is grateful to the European Science Foundation for permission to refer to it. The Code calls for researchers, public and private research organizations, universities and funding organizations to observe and promote the principles of integrity in scientific and scholarly research, including reliability in performing research, honesty in communication, objectivity, impartiality and independence, openness and accessibility, duty of care, fairness in providing references and giving credit, and responsibility for the scientists and researchers of the future.

For members of the Science and Society Committee, click here.