Team:UFMG Brazil/Public Engagement



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Education and Public Engagement

4)Talking to the society

The distance between the academia and the society, beyond restrict the demands that are addressed by science and make them apart from the societal needs, also interferes in the public acceptance of the projects developed by science. This subject was covered by our team work in the Synenergene project, which is described here.

To evaluate the public reaction about Synthetic Biology and our project, since we have the objective of using attenuated pathogens as a disease treatment, and to also assess the concerns and fears of the population about this approach, the team conducted a survey at different points of Belo Horizonte.

Overview of interviewees

Among a total of 302 people interviewed, 52.8% were female, and 46.9% were male (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The majority of the people interviewed had between 12 and 40 years(Figure 2)
Figure 2: Age of the interviewees.

The majority of the people interviewed has middle school to undergraduate degree (Figure 3).

Figure3: Education level of the interviewees.

Public background and opinion

In the survey questions on people’s opinions about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), most respondents (75%) showed that they were familiar with the concept, but the majority is unsure about the benefits they can provide (25.7% thinks they are bad for society and 34.2% do not know what to respond). In some cases, the phrase "that's playing God" was mentioned (see Figures 4 to 10).

The two main mistrusts reported by the public were the possibility of something going wrong, leading to the creation of a more dangerous pathogen than the pre-existing one; and the lack of faith that the Leishmania strain is indeed apathogenic. Thus, further explanations were given about the specific proposal and about Synthetic Biology.

In some cases, an oppening to the idea was observed and people seemed more sympathetic to the project, leading to a detected 84.5% acceptance to the team’s proposal. The reactions detected in the survey’s results made the team realise that there is a lack of information and discussion about GMOs and Synthetic Biology between society and scientific community (see Figures 4 to 10).

Figure 4: Answer to the question “Have you ever heard about Leishmania?”
Figure 5: Answer to the question “Do you think Leishmania could be beneficial?””
Figure 6:Answer to the question “Have you ever heard about GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)?”
Figure 7:Answer to the question “Do you believe GMOs to be beneficial or harmful for our society?”
Figure 8: Answer to the question “Would you accept using modified Leishmania as treatment for a disease?”
Figure 9:Answer to the question “Do you use probiotics, biological baking powder (yeast) or vaccines?”
Figure 10Answer to the question “Given the explanation, would you accept to use Leishmania if it was tested and proved safe?

5) Open Lab

UFMG_Brazil iGEM team is supporting the creation of a community lab in the UFMG. The project submitted to funding in 2014 has been recently approved and is beginning to be built. One of the main purposes of a community lab is to create a space to attend demands of the society and put them in practice.

To do so, it is necessary to understand how the general public feels, what are their thoughts on science and also what their possible contributions could be. Considering this, we promoted additional actions, such as the online platform Embryo.

6)Embryo Platform (1 k people reached)

The team is building, through a Facebook page, an Ideator pilot project - Embryo -, a place where we can easily reach more people and share more information about how good Synthetic Biology could be for the society. Check our pilot here.

Also, we have a Facebook page, where we dialogue with the public, we put news on the team, announced the project and events and disclose research questionnaires.

At last, the team wishes, in future, to build the ideator platform at first as a SynBio advertising tool to support the events, courses and lectures. In the future the team hopes the platform will also function as a data bank for innovation in SynBio, ideas and problems that the population is concerned with as well as suggestions. The platform would be open to everyone as a way of communication between the general public and scientists focusing on the general public’s needs.

7) SynBio Advertising - 73.3 k people reached

We organised some public interventions in Belo Horizonte, which were used to apply surveys and also to help increase SynBio awareness and to do scientific advertising. Ideas, issues and problems that could be solved using SynBio that the general public may offer were collected.

The team used social medias as tool for the advertising not only of the interventions, but also news in the scientific development, scientific events etc.

(7.1) Idea Incubator

The first action taken to disclose SynBio was the creation of a course called “Ideas Incubator”, open to the entire University community. It was realized that, even among college students, Synthetic Biology, its implications and potential use are not familiar topics. In this course, the basis of SynBio, Molecular Biology and general Biochemistry are studied and SynBio application issues are discussed.

The team wishes to offer the course once a year. The purpose of this course is to provide basic training in Synthetic Biology for later students can take advantage of its concepts to propose solutions to problems of today's society in different areas (Health, Environment, Energy, Food, Industry and Innovation).

Lectures on the main issues in each area will be given and, as a group, students will propose solutions using Synthetic Biology systems. In the near time, the most interesting ideas will be chosen by students to be deepened, constituting a concrete project, which can be applied. Also, to stimulate students criativity and interaction, practical exercises such as the Marshmallow challenge and Egg Drop Project were proposed.

(7.2 ) Lectures, Courses and Workshops

(7.2.1) Summer Course (0.8 k people reached)

The I Summer Course of Biological Machines Engeneering (ICVEMB) was born from the desire to spread the Synthetic Biology in our academic community, in an attempt not only to arouse interest in this area that fascinates us, but also to find and empower students interested in joining us in the coming years.

When we designed the course, we had no idea how many people would enroll. We had a limit of vacancies because our infrastructure could not support more than a few dozen candidates, but we did not imagine that they would come to be completed. We start to report the ICVEMB in mid-December, resulting in nearly thirty applications before the end of 2014.

On January 6, the day that the advisory service of the rectory UFMG finally spread our invitation to the entire campus and other institutions, we had over 300 subscribers.

The numbers have continued to increase since then until the end of the registration period, a month later. When the system was closed there were 837 registrations recorded in the database. People from all areas, undergraduate levels and the most diverse experiences possible took interest in our course.

The 40 students selected to participate were able to step into SynBio world, in a week of theoretical and practical classes. They also formed groups to develop and present a SynBio project idea. The overall satisfaction with the offered course, measured through a survey applied in the last day of the course, reached 82.5% and 100% of the students said they would recommend the course for their contacts. In addition, 83% of the course participants were interested in joining UFMG_Brazil iGEM team. Ten of them actually entered the team.

(7.2.2) Workshop (0.1 k people reached)

Our advisor, PhD Liza Felicori, was the first Professor to introduce Synthetic Biology as a reserch line in our university. It occured in 2013 and since then the group is a local reference in this course. To disclose SynBio and to change experiences we organized a Workshop of Biological Engeneering Machines, on 5th August. In this event we received Professors from other Brazilian Universities, including Professor Francis Nunes, the advisor from the iGEM's team UFSCar-Brasil.

Some startups' incubators were also present as well as a professors from engineering department, who discussed about patents and entrepreneurship. Below, you can see the Workshop programming and some pictures of the event.

(7.2.3) Lectures (0.6 k people reached)

Our team talked about this year’s iGEM project and about SynBio in some lectures at UFMG. The team already has lectures scheduled to be presented at the UnB (Brasília, Brazil) this year. The first event was the ExpoEngenharia (Engineering Expo), on 14th May 2015, at UFMG, Belo Horizonte. The lecture "Biological Engineering" was conducted by Clara Guerra and Carlos Gonçalves.

On 8th May 2015, professor Liza Felicori spoke about "Engineering of Molecules and Biological Systems" and Clara Guerra spoke about "Synthetic Biology and iGEM" at the VII Meeting of Research in Biochemistry and Immunology (ENAPEBI), at UFMG.

Natália Souza and Cristiane Toledo will give a lecture on "Synthetic Biology and iGEM" and the short course "Biological Engineering Machinery", on 20th October 2015, in the XIV SemaBio, at UnB (University of Brasilia).

(7.3) Interventions (0.5 k people reached)

On September 2015, our team went to the Praça da Liberdade (Portuguese for Liberty Square), in Belo Horizonte.

Our aim was to disclose to the public the idea of our project and investigate its acceptance, as well as sensitize the common people about the difficulties faced daily by a RA patient, know if people would submit to treatment with Leishmania in the future, and listen the opinion on what they think the scientists should research

In partnership with Priscilla Torres, owner of the blog Rheumatoid Arthritis, we provide a glove that simulates problems in the hand joints. The glove restricts the hand movements, mimetizing the difficulties that a person with arthritis has to perform routine tasks, like holding cutlery, handling a cell phone, using scissors, combing hair, brushing teeth, grabing a glass, opening a bottle or pot, and writing.

Moreover, Priscilla Torres posted on his blog an article about our project, encouraging his followers to record a video in support of our team.

(7.4) Medias

(7.4.1) Interviews: TV shows and Newspapers (317.3 k people reached)

Thanks to the innovation of our study, which uses as chassis the Leishmania, the parasite of leishmaniasis, an endemic disease in Brazil, our team appeared on BH News (a TV channel), Jornal O Tempo (a newspaper), Super Notícia (since 2006, this newspaper is a leader in sales in Minas Gerais, according to IVC.

The daily average of copies sold is about 317,000) as well as Rádio UFMG Educativa (University's radio), and Circuito UFMG (University's bulletin. The video at YouTube reached about 300 views). In these activities, we had the opportunity to expose our project to both general and academic population and also to propagate the Synthetic Biology in our community.

To watch our interview to the BH News,click here. To watch our interview to Circuito UFMG, click here. To see “O Tempo”/“Super Notícia” Newspaper,click here. To hear our interview for Radio UFMG (in Portuguese), To watch our interview to the “Circuito UFMG”, click here.

(7.4.2) YouTube Channel (0,45 k)

The team has also made a YouTube channel, where you may check all the interviews, lectures and presentations the team has done. To access our channel, you know where to click here.

(7.4.3) Facebook Fan Page (0,45 k)

The UFMG_iGEM team Facebook fan page has also been a means of communicating to society, reaching out for those who do not know SynBio yet. We reached 1,056 likes until now and our posts had an average reach of 281 per post.