CHEM21 Conference in Stuttgart
On 26.03.2015 we joined the CHEM21 conference in Stuttgart to start off our joined iGEM project. CHEM21 brings together six pharmaceutical companies, 13 Universities and four small to medium enterprises from across Europe with the aim to develop sustainable biological and chemical alternatives to finite materials.
Since the Graz University of Technology and the University of Manchester are also part of CHEM21, it made perfect sense to introduce partners in industry and other universities to iGEM and our project ideas. We presented our project goals in the CHEM21 meeting and talked to participants of the conference in front of our poster.
For us it was also an excellent opportunity to get feedback on our idea of a trans European team and also hear some opinions on our research project concepts. Based on these comments we finally decided on a joint project and were able to start working out the details and design experiments.
As part of our public outreach we visited two Highschools in Austria, BRG Kepler in Graz and HLW Deutschlandsberg, to talk about biotechnology, synthetic biology and our iGEM project.
To make sure the students (most of them 17 or 18 years old) knew what we were going to talk about we began our presentation with a short explanation of DNA, genes, transcription and translation followed by the principles of plasmids, cloning and their use for BioTech and SynBio. That theory was also illustrated by several examples of how those two research fields are a substantial part of our everyday life, even if we might not always be aware of it. Thereafter we took time to answer questions arising from our audience regarding these topics as well as biotechnology programs at university.
After all that talking the students got a chance to get their hands right onto the topic and isolated DNA from strawberries. It was surprising to see the huge amount of slimy mass consisting of DNA and proteins they could isolate from a small amount of strawberry; they even took their results home in micro centrifuge tubes.
For us it was quite an experience to talk about synthetic biology in front of pupils since we were only used to discussing our results and scientific topics in front of fellow students or teachers. Especially explaining complex biological processes (such as transcription and translation) and methods (for example PCR) made it quite challenging for us, as we had to simplify our language to make sure pupils really understood what we were talking about.
Through the school visits we achieved two aims: firstly, we educated pupils about synthetic biology and promoted iGEM and secondly, we were able to inspire students about biology, biotechnology and synthetic biology.
In September we teamed up with Warwick iGEM to give five lessons at Newman College in Oldham. We designed two different presentations to present to different age groups; one on going to university and studying science for ages 14-15 as well as one on synthetic biology and our iGEM projects for ages 16-17.
As many of the students were of an age where they start thinking about whether or not to go to university, we thought it was important to give them an insight into university life and how exciting it can be to study science. Furthermore we wanted to show them how the science they learn at school can be relevant and related to real life problems and projects such as iGEM. We also had the chance to teach a year 11 science class taking the chance to talk in a bit more detail about synthetic biology and our projects.
We found the whole day to be a great experience during which we got the chance to share our passion for science and guage interest for synthetic biology in young people. The feedback and questions we received from both students and teachers were very positive and showed us that our presentations were successful. It was also a great pleasure to be able to meet another iGEM team ahead of the Giant Jamboree and get an insight into their project.
In June we had the chance to spread the love for synthetic biology and spark an interest in Parkinson’s disease at a two day event hosted by the Faculty of Life Sciences. At our stand we offered activities such as optical illusions to show how the brain works. We explained the disease process of Parkinson’s as well as the current treatment and how our project might benefit patients.
800 people visited the Community Open Day day over the two days including school children, families as well as academics.The University of Manchester Faculty of Life Sciences Community Open Day allowed the team to educate general public on synthetic biology, genetic engineering, genetically engineered microorganisms and neuroscience. During the day the team distributed a sociological survey for later analysis and received preliminary feedback on DopaDoser.
As public outreach was one of our main concerns during the summer we created a survey which we handed out to people from Austria and the UK after a presentation. We are a multinational team and so the comparison of the two countries was important for us. We worked out 8 questions concerning the public’s opinion about synthetic biology and genetic engineering
All in all 91 people took part in our survey: 55 Austrians and 36 people from the United Kingdom. We were able to reach persons of different age, ethnicity and education.
Figure 1The blue bar refers to Austria and the orange one to the United Kingdom. SA stands for Strongly Agree, A for Agree, NS for Not Sure, D for Disagree, SD for Strongly Disagree and NA for not applicable.
Most Austrians (63%) agree that they feel they know what synthetic biology is. In comparison to that more people from UK do not feel sure if they do (Fig.1). British even disagreed/strongly disagreed at this question. Overall it can be said that Austrians feel more informed about synthetic biology than the British.
Figure 2 The blue bar refers to Austria and the orange one to the United Kingdom. SA stands for Strongly Agree, A for Agree, NS for Not Sure, D for Disagree, SD for Strongly Disagree and NA for not applicable.
The UK bars strongly agree, agree and not sure hold the balance (Fig.2). Most British people think synthetic biology is a good thing. Also most Austrians feel positive about synthetic biology. Only a small part of people asked do not feel confident about synthetic biology.
Figure 3 The blue bar refers to Austria and the orange one to the United Kingdom. SA stands for Strongly Agree, A for Agree, NS for Not Sure, D for Disagree, SD for Strongly Disagree and NA for not applicable.
A huge part of Austrians and people from UK do not feel sure about using products made with genetic engineering (Fig.3). Thus more educational work should be done in both countries to provide more information. However, only a small stake of people asked would completely refuse to use products produced by GMOs.
Figure 4 The blue bar refers to Austria and the orange one to the United Kingdom. SA stands for Strongly Agree, A for Agree, NS for Not Sure, D for Disagree, SD for Strongly Disagree and NA for not applicable.
In Austria as well as in the UK people asked (strongly) agree that they feel confident about using genetic engineering for medical purposes (Fig.4). Only a few percent of people of both countries disagreed at this point.
Figure 5 The blue bar refers to Austria and the orange one to the United Kingdom. SA stands for Strongly Agree, A for Agree, NS for Not Sure, D for Disagree, SD for Strongly Disagree and NA for not applicable.
The majority of people asked in Austria and in the UK did not feel sure whether it is difficult to take part in real scientific discussion (Fig.5). Interestingly the British are more confident about scientific discussions than Austrians. Only a small number of people from the UK found it difficult to take part in scientific discussions, where as nearly 40 percent of Austrians find science-related discussions difficult or very difficult.
Further information about people asked in Austria/United Kingdom
Figure 6 The blue bar refers to Austria and the orange one to the United Kingdom. SA stands for Strongly Agree, A for Agree, NS for Not Sure, D for Disagree, SD for Strongly Disagree and NA for not applicable.
Nearly all Austrians feel more informed about synthetic biology and genetic engineering after our outreach activities. Almost 70% of British asked felt they are more confident about the topic.
Figure 7 The blue bar refers Austria and the orange one United Kingdom. SA stands for Strongly Agree, A for Agree, NS for Not Sure, D for Disagree, SD for Strongly Disagree and NA for not applicable.
The major part of Austrians and also of people from the UK enjoyed the outreach of our team.
Figure 8 The major part of Austrians and also of people from the UK enjoyed the outreach of our team.
Taking into consideration the concept of the Knowledge Deficit Assumption, we designed our outreach activities in a way not to educate through communication of scientific facts but also considering public concerns. The necessity of a sociological survey is that the public is not homogeneous but consists of a number of different “publics”.
The survey showed that the DopaDoser idea is likely to be received positively by people of different age, ethnicity and level of education. Some correlations were revealed implying that those who know synthetic biology concept are likely to have positive attitude towards synthetic biology both in general and in medicinal contexts. Therefore, the team is pleased to receive positive feedback on the outreach activities and synthetic biology concept introduction showed in questions number seven and eight.