Life Science Ethics

Ethics Education in the Life Sciences

Through deeper understanding of the life sciences – from genomics to cells, organisms, species, and ecosystems – and emerging biotechnologies, the life sciences will fundamentally transform human society in the twenty first century and beyond. Grappling with the ethical and humanistic dimensions of biology is vital to direct this transformative potential to benefit individuals, society, and the world.  That’s why we created the Life Science Ethics Program.

The program cultivates a culture in the School of Life Sciences that contributes to ASU’s commitment to “advancing research and discovery of public value” and “transforming society” as laid out in the university’s charter and design aspirations. Students, faculty, and staff in our school have unique opportunities to explore the societal and ethical implications of life sciences research and education.

Embedded ethics

The program supports the school’s faculty incorporating ethics in courses, curriculum, and degree programs. Undergraduates begin exploring the ethical and social dimensions of biology in Introduction Biology with short modules on fundamental questions raised by scholars in these fields and an environmental ethics lab.  Graduate students engage in conversations with peers on professional standards for researchers in BIO 610, Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research in the Life Sciences. 

Undergraduate courses

The Human Dimensions Faculty offer a robust set of ethics courses both in-person and online.  Regular classes include:

  • BIO 311: “Biology and Society” (3)
  • BIO 312: "Bioethics" (3)
  • BIO 324: "Environmental Ethics" (3)
  • BIO 416/HPS 410: "Biomedical Research Ethics" (3)

Graduate courses

The Human Dimensions Faculty offer a robust set of graduate ethics courses. Regular classes include:

  • BIO 527: "Environmental Ethics & Policy Goals" (3)
  • BIO 598: “Big Data in Context: Ethics, Policy, History and Philosophy (1)
  • BIO 598: “Neuroscience, Ethics & the Law” (2)
  • BIO 598: "Advanced Topics in Bioethics" (3)
  • BIO 610: "Introduction to Responsible Conduct of Research" (1)
  • BIO 611: "Advanced Topics in Responsible Conduct of Research" (1)

BioEthics Breakfast Club


Publishing in the 2020s – Some Predatory Practices

As of 2020 there were more than 46,000 academic journals publishing papers worldwide (WordsRated, 2023). Of these, it is estimated that some 15,000 journals are considered “predatory”. Publishing, especially predatory publishing, is a large and growing phenomenon. What ethical and pragmatic issues stem from such dissemination of scientific research and how do they impact individual scientists and scientific organizations?

Facilitators: Marty Wojciechowski, Hinsby Cadillo-Quiroz, Jingle Wu

Wednesday, September 20, 2023
9 - 10 a.m.

For more information contact
Karin Ellison 
Life Science Ethics Program

LSC 202

Sequencing Global Eukaryotic Biodiversity-Social and Ethical Considerations

National and international investments in biodiversity genomics are accelerating how fast researchers can generate high-quality reference genomes for new species. The Earth Biogenome Project is an important example, contributing hundreds of high-quality eukaryotic species genomes to date with the ambition to scale to thousands per year in the near future. Sequencing of species at such a scale poses opportunities and risks for science and society that we are not fully prepared to monitor and address. In conservation, for example, there is an opportunity for better genetic management of protected species, such as the kakapo (see hoto), but there are also risks of new and intensified commercial use of unprotected species. Open data is a double edged sword in this respect, providing the means to both amplify both positive and negative outcomes. Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) are especially important actors in this context, since they are essential stewards for much of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity and should equitably benefit from biodiversity genomics research.

Facilitators: Krystal Tsosie and Beckett Sterner 

Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023
9 - 10 a.m.

For more information contact
Karin Ellison 
Life Science Ethics Program

LSC 202
Tardigrade in front of the moon.

Life in Space

Join Cheryl Nickerson, School of Life Sciences, and Timiebi Aganaba, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, to explore ethical questions concerning space futures and research in space. Why is space exploration important to do, even as so many problems on Earth deserve our attention (and money)? What do we know about how the human body — including its collection of microorganisms — will behave on longer-term space missions? How is microbiological research informing the protection of astronauts during missions, as well as efforts to prevent forward and backward contamination? What strategies of governance are being developed for space exploration, and how might those strategies inspire more creative thinking about the governance of more Earthly technologies?

Facilitators: Cheryl Nickerson and Timiebi Aganaba

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023
9 - 10 a.m.

For more information contact
Karin Ellison 

Life Science Ethics Program

LSC 202

Life Science Ethics Movie Night

Elizabeth Holms

The Inventor (Spring 2023)

Co-sponsored by Life Science Ethics and the Medical Ethics Club

When: Tuesday, April 4 • 5-8:30 p.m.
5 p.m. Entrance and box dinner*
5:30 p.m. Film viewing
7:30 p.m. Panel discussion Where: Biodesign Auditorium

From audacious idea to flying high to a resounding crash, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and president Sunny Balwani pitched a laboratory revolution – cheap blood tests based on automation and small quantities of blood. How did Theranos get as far as major contracts with Safeway, Walgreens, and the Cleveland Clinic and unravel so completely? What can we learn about dreams, start-up culture, and fraud?

Stephanie Buchholtz, Senior Director, Office of Research Compliance and Quality Management, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)
Carolyn Compton, Professor, School of Life Sciences, and Medical Director, Biodesign Clinical Testing Laboratory
Clark Miller, Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Karin Ellison 
Life Science Ethics Program

LSC 202

Contact information

Bioethics Breakfast Club

Organizing Committee

The Bioethics Breakfast Club organizing committee develops session ideas and coordinates the series. SOLS graduate students Dalton Meadows, Risa Schnebly, Matthew Tontonoz and Kelsi Watkins make up the committee.