Ferment It Yourself
iGEM Paris-Bettencourt 2O15
Setting up our project, we involved local Indian citizens and expert authorities in India to understand their needs and how a synthetic biology approach addresses them in an accepted way. They shared with us how they perceive our work and their concerns, comments and questions. Our project has largely benefited from these exchanges.The dish choice. It is easy to understand why we chose idli; it is a very popular fermented dish eaten daily all around India (see Graphic below) and loved because of its particular taste and texture. It is a way for us to celebrate and promote Indian culture without disrupting it.
Authorities and Experts :We exchanged with lawmakers and food safety authorities to get their views on our project and tune it accordingly.
Contact person: Dr. A. K. Sharma, on the behalf of the Chairperson and CEO of Food Safety and Standard Authority in India (FSSAI).Advice: Choose the right microorganisms so they can survive and work together, along with the use of critical genes for the vitamin pathways. Concerning the law, he said that there is currently no authorisation for GMO microorganisms in the Indian Food regulation and if we want to have our product in India, its safety needs to be established.
Contact person: Dr. Sunita Grover, principal scientist and head of the Dairy Microbiology Division at the National Dairy Research Institute>Advice: Use food grade vector system to make sure our product is safe for consumption and to reduce issues arising from the use of genetically modified bacteria. She had concerns about the compatibility of the different species living in fermentation batter. To finish, her major concern is safety. Our project needs to undergo phase I and II trials in order to assess safety and scientifically proven health benefits. She was surprised and really enthusiastic towards the project because malnutrition is a serious problem in India and many children suffer from it our project.
Contact person: Prof. Samir K. Brahmachari, former director of India's main research body - The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); Chief mentor, Open Source Drug Discovery center.Advice: Regarding the law, there is no GM microorganisms that are allowed because of the use of antibiotic markers that makes them unsafe to eat. But for him if we can add a safe vitamin pathway to a bacterium currently present in food (lactic acid bacteria for example) that will be sterilized but producing enough vitamin to fortify the food, it should be possible. It is not impossible that regulatory issues can undergo changes. Concerning the GMO debate in Europe and India, the main points are different: in India, people don't want GMO to be associated with farmers, they don't want them to be dependent and no one want a monopoly of a particular plant. These issues don't apply to our project for Samir Brahmachari, but labeling would be an problem: the use of our product only depends on people's wish. If people find it beneficial and safe, they would take it. To continue, an accelerated evolution can be more acceptable for a project like ours for the GMO regulation. Also, since our project doesn't imply a big company producing and giving a product, it is more likely to work and be more accepted, as well as the way we want to implement it (give power to people, let them have their own "mini-lab" and produce their bacteria and yeast for their consumption) according to him. Prof. Brahmachari visited us this summer and participated to our first workshop. We went to meet him again at the 2nd Annual Open Source Pharma Conference in Frankfurt, Germany at the end of the summer.
Indian Citizens - field study & Acceptance :
Because the law is not the only element we needed to consider for our project, we decided to build a survey on the food habits of Indian citizens, to understand what they eat the most and when, how they cook, how often the food varies, how they see our idea, would they try it, etc.This survey take an important place in the Human practices, because collecting information on the field is essential, to understand people’s acceptance toward our project, and to find ways of introducing this project into their daily life without disrupting their tradition and culture.
Alice's trip to India :
In order to get in touch with the Indian population, we shared our survey with an ex- iGEMer (Alice LEBOEDEC from the 2014 INSALyon team) who went to South India at the end of July. She helped us gather information by distributing the survey and assisting people with filling it out. This helped out team to shape our project according to people's preferences. Alice not only returned with the filled in surveys, but also a few samples of idli batter, curd (fermented milk), rice, lentils and condiments for us to analyze.
Among the farmers that filled out the survey, daily rice consumption was universal, being consumed with vegetables as a side dish, while fish and meat are eaten once or twice a week. The people she interviewed were really enthusiatic towards our project and said that they would try the modified microorganisms that make food more nutritious. You can see below the photos of the Idli preparation and the batter.
Online survey :
The same survey was designed online to allow us to have more point of view and information about Indian Citizen food habits. We also made a video explaining the project, that we showed people before they filled the survey:
Download VideoWith the help of the different Indian iGEM teams (IIT_Madras, ISER_Pune, IIT_Delhi, IIT_Kharagpur, SVCE_Chennai) that shared our online survey trough India, we could extract interesting information quite important for us (most of the person that answered this survey are students).
For example, we could see that almost every person that filled the survey eats idli daily (see Graphic 1). This information is crucial, since idli is the dish we selected for the addition of the vitamin-producing bacteria. Because a large amount of people eat this dish daily, it is a good target to reduce deficiencies and show our proof of concept for selecting this dishe.
Graphic 1 : Graphic showing the number of Idli eaten per person and per day
This graphic shows that the most eaten ingredient are definitely rice and dal (Graphic 2), the two basic elements we find in most dishes in India (Curd rice, Sambar rice, Lemon rice, Idli, Dosa, etc). On their own, they are not sufficient to meet the needs of the human body in vitamins, it is important to have a balanced diet, but not everyone has access to a variety of food.
Fermented dishes such as Idli or Dosa are not always eaten because it is the only affordable food (meaning they are not the only food basic for some populations), it is noteworthy to see that when we asked people if they ate this two food and why, they replied they liked the taste, smoothness and their special consistence. This shows that the people we asked had the choice to eat it or not.
Graphic 2: Graphic showing the most eaten ingredients per person.
When asked if they would try our idea of adding vitamin-producing bacteria, most of the people said they would try it, as long as it is harmless for human health and proven efficient. We noticed that a slight change in the making of the recipe was not a concern about the participants; a step such as adding a little cube or powder in the recipe doesn't raise issue, as long as the taste is not modified (around half of the persons said that a change in the taste for the worse would be definitely not accepted).
The main concerns raised were definitely about safety, either from professionals or from citizens. In our project, we used antibiotic markers and we plan to remove them if the project go on to make it safer for consumption. The use of a microorganisms that will be steamed is also a way of making sure that there is an active sterilization and this is why idli was our first choice for the project. Food grade vector are also a good solution to ensure safety, and we consider using it if it works with our vitamin pathways, and maybe get easily to the clinical trials.