Science and Society
Molecular life sciences 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 the publicly debated issues are stem cell research, personalized medicine, genetically modified organisms, food safety, and animal health and welfare.
The FEBS Science and Society Committee works at the interface between scientists, policy makers and the wider public. The Committee contributes through creating strategies and mechanisms for the shaping of policy and as a key European Federation focusing the efforts of member organizations on catalysing initiatives.
Scientific policy at the European level can be split into two strands: funding and regulation. Within the area of science funding the Committee aims to empower scientists to take a more active role in strategic plans and to enable them to speak with a unified voice. By consulting the scientific community it is much easier to generate a bottom-up approach and, most importantly, to create a vision for life sciences, which can be supported through European and national government money. The other aspect to science policy is working on the regulatory side, ensuring that there is sound scientific input into new laws and regulations that impact the life sciences. Within this, the Committee aims to champion diversity within biochemical sciences.
Working with the wider public beyond policy makers, the Committee, in collaboration with the FEBS Constituent Societies, aims to increase the understanding of biochemical science across Europe. This is particularly important as life sciences have undergone a tremendous explosion during recent years. This rapid development has resulted in a number of ethical issues and the Committee aims to provide unbiased contributions to the wider societal debate about the use of these technologies, linking to the Committee’s work on regulatory policy. As part of this objective the Committee organizes a science and society symposium at the annual FEBS Congress.
• FEBS Special Session on Science & Society at the IUBMB–FEBS–PABMB Congress, Lisbon, July 2022
For the Congress website, click here.
RNA solutions to genetic and infectious diseases
Tuesday July 12; 16:00–18:00; Organized by the FEBS Science and Society Committee
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
• 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 Committtee to:
• the Italian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SIB) for the public engagement event 'I’m in plastic: it's not fantastic' (15 November 2022; University of Insubria, Varese, Italy)
• the Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM) for a video project
Science and Society events
• At the FEBS Congress: In 2021, the virtual 45th FEBS Congress Science and Society Special Session on 'Plastics: revolution, pollution and substitution' featured talks from Oliver Bajt, Paola Fabbri and Frederic Debeaufort. For more details, see the session introduction on the FEBS Network site here.
•FEBS Constituent Societies holding FEBS-supported Science and Society events
'Personalized medicine' topic (2020–2021): Association of Biochemists and Molecular Biologists of Bosnia and Herzegovina (7 May 2021, online; http://ubmbubih.net). Events in Greece and Italy have been postoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.
'Microbiome' topic (2019): The Biological Society of Cyprus, The Italian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Reports can be found in the Viewpoints channel of the FEBS Network.
Research Integrity: A Code of Conduct
As a charitable organization, FEBS aims to advance research and education in the molecular life sciences through its journals, fellowships, courses, congress and other activities. Ethical conduct is demanded in all activities supported by FEBS. Given recent 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 has decided to subscribe to the 'European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity'. This document was prepared by the European Science Foundation/All European Academies, and 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.
Contacts with EU political officers, EMBO, ISE and other organizations have taken place in order to exchange information and coordinate activities related to science and society. In particular, under the umbrella of the BioMed Alliance, FEBS has participated in efforts to obtain from the EU the best research budget for the next Framework program (FP9), and also for inclusion of key points of interest to members of FEBS Constituent Societies such as: an increased ERC program budget, small network projects that may give rise to large projects, international labs for neighbouring countries, creation of common resource platforms such as biobanks, reinforcement of the Marie Curie program, funding for shorter stay European PhD programs, reorganization of evaluation processes, and minimization of bureaucracy.
The work of the FEBS Science and Society Committee is reported to FEBS Council and in the FEBS Annual Report. Occasional reports also appear in FEBS News and on the FEBS Network. For members of the Science and Society Committee, click here. The full terms of reference of the Committee are given in the FEBS Bylaws.
A short history
The FEBS Council approved the establishment of a Science and Society Committee, chaired by Federico Mayor, Spain, at its 27th Meeting, held in Lisbon in 2001. Alongside its other work, the Committee has organized a science and society programme at each of the FEBS annual Congresses since 2002, as summarized below.
*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 a recent article in Molecular Oncology:
Celis, J.E. and Gago, J.M. (2014) Shaping science policy in Europe. Mol. Oncol. 8, 447–457
Science and Society programmes at past FEBS Congresses:
2021 (Virtual, Ljubljana), Session on Plastics: revolution, pollution and substitution
2020 Congress postponed
2019 (Krakow), Session on Personalised medicine: a future vision 2018 (Prague), Session on Healthy microbiome, healthy host?
2017 (Jerusalem), Session on The role of CRISPR in Personalized Medicine: Legal and Ethical Problems
2016 (Kuşadası – cancelled), Session was planned on GMOs: Applications to Medicine and Agronomy (two speakers shared slide sets on the Congress website in absence of live event)
2015 (Berlin), Session on Evolutionary Medicine, subtitled 'Why do we get sick?'
2014 (Paris; FEBS–EMBO Conference), Session on Safety and Security in the Biological Sciences, and Roundtable on New Trends in European Scientific Policy
2013 (St Petersburg), Workshop on Personalized Cancer Medicine
2012 (Sevilla; IUBMB–FEBS Congress), Session on AIDS, and joint workshops with FEBS, IUBMB and SEBBM Education Committees on biochemistry and molecular biology education
2011 (Torino), Session on Genetic Diseases
2010 (Gothenburg), Session on Biofuels are more than Fuels
2009 (Prague), Session on Ethics and Legislation in Stem Cell Research
2008 (Athens), Session on Biochemistry-Quality of Life-New Challenges
2007 (Vienna), (i) A town hall meeting on Re-Emerging Diseases - A Global Threat; (ii) Inclusion of Science & Society issues in a workshop on Lipids and Aging; and (iii) a Science and Society Session on Alzheimer Disease -"Aging of the Brain"
2006 (Istanbul), Session on Genetically Modified Plants: Current Status and Future Challenges
2005 (Budapest); Special Lecture on Science, Society and Public Understanding of Science
2004 (Warsaw), Session on Biological, Medical and Ethical Aspects of Stem Cell Research
2003 (Special Meeting, Brussels), Three Panel Sessions on (i) Science and Society in Europe; (ii) Stem Cell Research and Society; and (iii) Genetically Modified Organisms: Public Perception, Regulation and Role of Media
2002 (Istanbul), Panel Session on Science, Society and the Media