Dialog between Science and Society

Progress always has its benefits and risks. Therefore it's important to talk and inform about research topics. A dialog between science and society is important not only in matters of benefits, but also safety and ethical issues. We informed about synthetic biology at science fair where over 1000 people saw our booth. We also organized - in cooperation with other German iGEM teams - the SynBio Day where we informed about iGEM and our project. We also wanted to know what comes in peoples' mind when thinking of Synthetic Biology. We asked several pupils and created a mind map out of it.

Science Fair in Freiburg

"Have you ever seen DNA?“ - This was the questions we asked the visitors at our booth at the „Wissenschaftsmarkt“ (science fair) in Freiburg. Everbody is hearing about DNA, but cannot really imagine what lies behind this mysterious substance. And as iGEMers we are working with it on a daily basis. One of our aims was to bring our favorite molecule a more in contact with people.
At our booth people could extract DNA from bananas and even touch it. We were able to show people real DNA and tried to de-mystify this completely normal molecule.
While people were busy with mashing and precipitating we used the chance to inform on synthetic biology and its application in general and about iGEM in particular.
We gained many surprised looks by people of all ages, as we pulled the DNA from our mixture and even more as told that the genome of this fruit shares approximately 50% sequence identity with the human genome.
We were able to reach a very broad public, from young to old, and busted some popular myths about the „blueprint of life“.

The SynBio-Day in Germany

On September 7th, german iGEM teams organized again the Synthetic Biology Day to inform nationwide about Synthetic Biology. Each team had planned a project on their own to attract a huge number of people and present iGEM and their project in their hometown at the same time.
The iGEM team Freiburg aimed not only to inform the population but also give our visitors the chance to take action in an experiment - just in the sense: Learning by doing!
Therefore, we presented an interesting mix of informational posters and a scientific experiment at the Kaiser-Joseph-Straße, which is the superhub of Freiburg's downtown and the busiest street as well.
For the scientific experiment we chose the DNA extraction from banana which is possible to be conducted by every age and needs only some homewares.
Many citizens felt attracted by our performance and after a few minutes many discussions about Synthetic Biology started. Here we met with people that had completely different opinions towards genetic engineering. Nevertheless, also the opponents of genetic engineering were interested in our project and wished us success.
Although our posters and discussions had fulfilled the purpose to enlighten the citizens of Freiburg about the topic Synthetic Biology, the most inspirational subject of the day still remained the DNA extraction.
To support our information and be kept in memory we also delivered flyers with some sweets. We in turn, won't forget all the marveled faces that appeared when the DNA came to light in our experiment.

What is synthetic biology? - Mindmap

What is synthetic biology? This is what we asked people of all age groups. We wanted to know what comes to the mind of “non biologist” when they hear the term “synthetic biology” so that we can meet the hopes and fears reported to us in our human practice approach.

The most frequent idea of synthetic biology in our survey was to imitate nature by designing and manufacturing “things” or organisms in the lab. The technical realization of biological systems so that we are able to control these systems was the continuation of this idea. Pupils of a biotechnology school also proposed bio fuels and bio plastic to be connected with the term of synthetic biology. They also thought about a process of artificial manufacturing useful resources and of combining biology and chemistry to achieve this goal.

As another area of application the health and medicine sector was recognized. Here the catch phrase “gene therapy” appeared. This application of synthetic biology is a very broad and promising area that truly interested the sample of the survey. Personalized medicine and tissue engineering are terms mentioned and discussed in this context. Of course also cancer therapy was a frequent stated topic we addressed and informed about in our human practice actions. As our uniCAS toolkit could potentially be used for all these gene therapy approaches we really emphasized this aspect of synthetic biology during our human practice work, e.g. when we gave talks in schools.

Only very few people came up with critical input. Here the possibilities of creating new drugs or biological weapons were suspected to be potential fields of application of synthetic biology. We eliminated these misgivings by clarifying the term synthetic biology and explaining the tremendous research importance of synthetic biology. After telling how we understand the term synthetic biology explaining our work for iGEM everyone was very positive about this field of research.

“iGEM” was also something people answered when we asked them what they connect with synthetic biology. The competition is already quite famous in Freiburg, not only under biology students. Of course we were very happy to explain the exciting but quite complex project of Freiburg for this year's iGEM competition. This can be kind of challenging when your counterpart is a “non biologist” but in the end we were successful in fascinating people about what we do.

Overall we were really overwhelmed of the positive resonance to synthetic biology and iGEM. The human practice work of the former Freiburg iGEM teams seems to have been very efficient.