Course syllabus

PM / Syllabus

BBT012 Ethics in biotechnology lp1 HT2023 (7.5 hp)

The course is offered by the department of Life Sciences in collaboration with the department of Technology Management and Economics

This PM can be downloaded here.

Detailed schedule

Teachers and examiners:

Calle:  Carl Johan Franzén  (LIFE)          772 3808

Karl:    Karl de Fine Licht  (TME)  


Guest lecturers (not yet confirmed, 230823):

Henrik Aronsson

Yvonne Nygård

Heidi Carmen Howard

Matty Janssen



Biotechnology has enormous potential for improving human health and providing sustainable solutions for providing nutrition, energy and chemicals to society. At the same time, many of these technologies interact with basic processes of life, may affect the personal integrity of individuals, and may have unclear effects on the environment. A problem is that technological innovation and its effects are hard to predict in detail, so decisions will have to be made under uncertainty.

The course aims to develop the students' understanding of ethical aspects that appear when biotechnologies are developed and applied. Students learn a systematic and nuanced way to reason around and to reach well-founded answers to questions regarding how society and individuals should act during the development and application of different technologies. The main emphasis is on the analysis of a number of cases by, among others, theories in normative ethics. Additionally, the course aims at making students aware of laws and rules that regulate biotechnical research and development activities.


Learning objectives

After completion of this course, the student should be able to:

  • identify and critically discuss ethical issues that occur in biotechnology, orally and in writing in English;
  • adequately apply basic moral philosofical theories and concepts on existing ethical problems;
  • assess the validity and relevance of arguments that are used in the debate on ethics and biotechnology, argue for different standpoints and take position in a well-founded and transparent way;
  • account for generally accepted and generic policies and guidelines for research ethics and professional ethics;
  • in a nuanced way reflect on her/his professional role from an ethical perspective, including aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion;
  • account for laws, statutes and established routines that regulate experimental and industrial use of biological samples, animals and humans.

Study plan on the student portal.


Course-specific prerequisites

Biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, and microbiology corresponding to a bachelor's degree in biotechnology, bioengineering, or similar.



Ethics in biotechnology is, simply put, the study of ethical problems and possibilities that arise during the development and application of biotechnology. During the course, students develop knowledge regarding what actions society and individuals should take in the prospect of development and implementation of new biotechnology. By examining the positions that exist in different societal debates about technologies and what they imply, the students practice the formulation of ethical problems, develop standpoints and solutions, and formulate preliminary answers to ethical questions. We use normative theories, e.g. for virtue ethics, consequentialism, and deontological ethics but also tools for analysis of arguments in order to understand and develop ethical reasoning. Ethical problems are specified by using concrete examples from current debates and research areas, e.g. the CRISPR-Cas method for genome editing, GMO crops, genetic diagnostics and stem cell technology.

Issues that will be discussed during the course include:

    • distribution of responsibilities between society and individuals;
    • engineering ethics and research ethics;
    • classical normative ethics, risk ethics and applied ethics;
    • fundamental conditions for morality, moral methodology, and argumentation analysis;
    • academic honesty and integrity;
    • theory of science;
    • laws and regulations for experimental work with humans, animals, environmental samples, pathogenic organisms, genetically modified organisms;
    • ethical leadership, e.g. conflict handling, master-suppression techniques, equality, diversity and inclusion, and the role of the engineer in a sustainable working life.


Organization and teaching modes

The course is organized in the form of lectures, seminars and group work. Students are expected to read relevant literature and other resources during the course. Formative assessment of assignments during the seminars is an integral part of the course design.

Lectures are not compulsory but students are expected to be present.

Seminars and group work on Wednesday afternoons are compulsory.

Most of the practical learning is expected to take place during the seminars, when students discuss specific cases in study groups and develop their analysis and argumentation skills. The student groups will be assigned by the teachers.

If a compulsory seminar is missed, the student will be given an individual assignment on the same topic as the missed seminar. Please contact Carl Johan Franzén if you know you are unable to attend a seminar.



Students are assessed via two essay assignments, active participation at seminars, a quiz, and a final exam.

The essay assignments deal with case studies of biotechnological and work ethics cases, including aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion. For each of these assignments, students are required to submit 1) a brief individual draft argument as preparation for the group work; 2) the actual group assignment report (first version); 3) an individual peer review of a text written by another group; and 4) a revised group assignment report. Students will receive formative feed-back on the first version of the report, and the ethical analyses therein, from other students via the peer reviews, and from the teachers. Detailed instructions and an evaluation form will be given with the assignments. 

The quiz is a multiple choice test on rules, regulations, good research practice and academic (mis-)conduct.

The final exam consists of questions on theory and methodology relevant to the analysis of ethical issues, and of a brief ethical analysis of one or several biotechnical cases.

Acceptable assignments, quiz and exam results, and active participation in seminars are required for passing the course (grade 3). Higher grades (4 and 5) are based exclusively on the results of the final exam.


Overall schedule


The detailed schedule can be found below, and can be downloaded here.


Course literature

The course literature consists of handouts, on-line videos, scientific articles and book chapters referred to during the course. A list of links and documents can be downloaded here. (Updated 230920).

To avoid illegal copying, students must download required articles via the E-journals and E-books available at the Chalmers library homepage:


Changes made since the last occasion

  • Changed order of lectures and seminars due to teacher availability.
  • Updated content of some lectures and seminars.
  • The importance of studying the literature, web resources and other sources of information will be stressed in the beginning of the course. It is important for the final exam.
  • Traditional in-class exam instead of take-home.
  • Changed days for submission of individual draft and individual peer review (to Mondays)


Detailed course schedule

The complete schedule can be downloaded here. (The schedule is subject to change due to teachers' availability)

Course summary:

Date Details Due