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Educational Videos

We're making educational videos on Synthetic Biology, aimed at high-school students, as well as undergraduates looking to get involved with iGEM! All of our videos can be found on our YouTube Channel, but we have also uploaded a selection to this page. Our first video, giving a brief overview of SynBio and iGEM is below.
Please also check out our collaboration with Copenhagen where we provided a condensed version of our RFC-10 explanation video. Don't forget to check out their project too!

One of the main sets of videos we have created looks to educate sixth-form students and undergraduates on the various techniques used within iGEM and Synthetic Biology.

Ethical Outreach

Additionally, we wish to make easy to understand videos explaining exactly what we're doing, and the biological, ethical and safety issues associated with our work, in a form that is both engaging and entertaining for the public. We sent out a survey on what people feel are the ethical issues surrounding our project.
The main ethical issues people have noticed were bioterrorism, accidental release and playing god. we will address these issues in the Safety and Ethics section.

Other Outreach

The Leeds iGEM team have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to sixth-formers attending summer schools and experience days at the University. We are also going to go into local schools and spread the word about Synthetic Biology to students and get them involved.

19th July Outreach Session

On the 19th of July, Paul, Emily and Dan ran a workshop with a group of sixth-form students about Synthetic Biology, our project and the ethical concerns that comes with it.
We started with a short presentation about iGEM, SynBio and our project, MicroBeagle, before getting them into groups and asking them to come up with their own ideas about ethics and what concerns they had when it came to undertaking biological research. Here are some of the main ideas they came up with:

  • Testing on animals or humans - could be harmful/have side effects/immoral?
  • Is saving endangered species unnatural?
  • Do the risks outweigh the losses? Do the risks outweigh the benefits?
  • Is the thing we're making lethal? Making harmful substances?
  • Religion "don't alter what's being created"- playing God, sanctity of life
  • Getting the consent of the government to do the research
  • Bioterrorism - risk of the research getting into the wrong hands, weaponizable - mass destruction, chemical weapons, wiping out species
  • What is the public's opinion on the work being done?
  • Damaging the ecosystem- escape from the lab could harm natural ecosystems
  • Effects on the economy - if GM Crops are produced which can destroy industry dependent to the country
  • Harmful to humans - potentially dangerous eg. GM Crops with unknown side effects
  • Who controls what has been created? Intellectual Property?
  • Cloning to make superhumans (maybe a few too many sci-fi movies?)
  • Science can be swayed by politics
  • Is it right to spend lots of money on research during a recession?
  • Genetic modification is unnatural, going against nature, people don't want GM crops
  • Where does it stop?

After the groups fed back to the front of the theatre, we then wanted to see how many of the students felt these were valid concerns and why. To do this, we designated one side of the room as strongly agree and the other as strongly disagree. Each issue was then presented as a statement, and the students asked to move to a side of the room that reflected their opinion - this gave us a visual spectrum of where opinion fell. Once everyone had moved around the room, the team then picked out individuals and asked to explain why they were stood where they were - so some felt strongly that Bioterrorism was a serious risk that needs to be dealt with, while others were found to be in the middle ground, explaining that:

”It depends on what you are working on - not everything that you could make is dangerous, so bioterrorism isn't as much as a threat as accidental contamination or something”

Each issue was covered in turn, and most of these issues we have considered before but there was one theme that appeared which we hadn't. This theme was based around the costs of research and worries about spending money on unnecessary causes whilst the recession in Britain continues. What came across was that money was being wasted on research when it could be invested in businesses or other public needs around Britain. This seemed particularly interesting, so we presented a counter-argument that research can lead to new businesses and growth - an example being the invention of the LASER which was originally seen as "a solution looking for a problem" but within a matter of years helped to revolutionize technology. The group agreed that if the research was helpful then it should still be undertaken, but still felt that money could be wasted on unhelpful research that was being undertaken for 'fun' or personal interest ahead of societal gain.
The second most polarised issue was animal testing - the majority of the group were vehemently opposed although a few were very strongly in favour. When asked, the students thought that testing on humans was okay because consent can be given, and test subjects made aware of what they are doing and the consequences that could occur. Others raised the counterpoint that we risk needless deaths doing this. To help push the debate along, Paul explained how current clinical trials worked, after which there was some movement from the Against to the For side of the room. However, some more vocal students pointed out that often, the animal testing data was void, as frequently, the physiological effects of chemicals on mice are not the same as they are on humans. A valid point, as both Warfarin and Aspirin are glaring examples of this. There was a little more movement in the room, until we mentioned that soon it will be possible to grow human organ tissues from single cells, and then integrate these into a lab-scale human analogue! This would eliminate the need for testing on both animals and humans, as tissue samples could be personalised to each patient’s genetic information, and tested in the lab. Upon hearing this, the students agreed that this would be the best approach, even if it did make use of cloning techniques, as it didn’t look to produce full human clones, but merely tissue samples of a few thousand cells.
The group also felt that the public should have more of a say in what should and shouldn't be researched. This is a valid point, but would it really be feasible? There are a lot of different opinions expressed within the public and some will agree with undertaking the research you propose whilst others will not. Which opinion do you then let influence you; do you do the research or not? Clearly, the public need to know what is going on in the field of research but how should their opinion influence whether the research goes ahead? On the other hand, governments have a more influential voice when approving research, especially as most research grants come from them. Is it the government’s place to listen to the public’s opinion and then make a decision based on that whether the research should go ahead? This potentially creates a highly politicised environment, that may not be beneficial to research. However, the group still felt that there ought to be more public say in science, adding that it would help to engage the public with science. Examples of attempts at this can already be seen with platforms such as MicroRyza taking cues from crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and applying them to science.
Perhaps one of the most interesting issues raised was that of intellectual property rights, control of technology and the effect on economies. The students as a whole were not as engaged with this idea, although a few certainly brought up some interesting points. For example, one student questioned what happens when you develop a device, who actually has control over it? If a government or corporation control it, then can they be trusted to use it properly (Monsanto, for example, are already under scrutiny for a potential containment issue). Alternatively, what if the device you develop could disrupt the entire economy of another country, is it right to do so? Certainly, it is clear that Synthetic Biology could have far-reaching consequences, and it is appropriate to spend time carefully thinking about and addressing those consequences thoroughly.
The resources on current research are out there for the public to find, but it was clear from our workshop that outreach needs to be done to engage with the public - the students we were talking to already had an active interest in science and research, yet clearly felt not enough was being done to inform the general public about what was going on. Over the last few years more events that the public can attend have been popping up; we agree this needs to continue and escalate to ensure that interest in modern science continues and reaches a new audience. Most importantly, these events should attempt to seriously address any ethical issues the public have with current research. But it's not just workshops that need to happen - national-media science coverage is important too, not only for having a further audience reach, but because it can genuinely affect public perception. This is probably iGEM’s greatest attribute, as the competition has sufficient gravitas to make its presence felt on a national and international stage. Because of this, it is worth iGEM teams making an effort to contact prominent science-correspondents, writers and presenters about their projects, as well as running smaller-scale, public workshop sessions. The team will continue to document its efforts on this page.

20th August Reach for Excellence

On the 20th August, Emily, Jonah, Jenni and Sabrina presented to a group of sixth form students at the Reach for Excellence Summer School held at Leeds University. The group talked about what Synthetic Biology and the iGEM competition is, and also explained our own Micro-Beagle iGEM project and its possible future uses. We then went on to talk about the ethics concerned with Synthetic Biology.
After the presentation the students had a debate about the ethical issues that arises with Synthetic Biology, where students suggested the main issues involved with the ethics of Synthetic Biology and wrote them down in groups of 4-5 people. The students identified a range of ethical issues including animal testing, bioterrorism, environmental issues, political influences and religious issues such as playing god. The students then chose whether they agreed, disagreed or were neutral for each issue that was brought up.
We then showed the students around the undergraduate labs and gave them a chance to learn a new skill - how to pipette and load gels for electrophoresis experiments. Each student had a go at loading the gels with our samples, and learnt about how gel electrophoresis is used to determine the size of DNA fragments, and is a key tool for Synthetic Biology projects.
Overall - a success!

Cafe Scientifique

In early September, the team were the invited guest speakers for that month's Cafe Scientifique in Leeds. Dan and Paul prepared a 30 minute presentation about Synthetic Biology, iGEM and our project, while Oleg came along to support and answer questions. As an added safety net (or perhaps just to make sure we did things right) Professor Meldrum, Dr. Turnbull and Dr. Deacon were also in attendance, alongside 40 or so science-savvy members of the general public.
Needless to say, we did a fantastic job - don't believe us? Good thing we recorded it all. The Presentation can be viewed at our Youtube Page here and the Q&A can be viewed here.
Apologies to those wishing to view the videos on the wiki, but at over half an hour each, the file sizes are a little too large to be uploaded! Sorry! We hope you take a look anyway, if only for some of Dan's cheesy jokes.


The week after Cafe Scientifique, Dan and Paul gave a presentation to a group of individuals interested in setting up a DIY synthetic biology group. The presentation gave them a background into synthetic biology and our iGEM project, Paul talked through some examples and potential applications to inspire them to come up with their own project. After which Paul gave a demonstration on how to turn a digital webcam into a microscope, this is the start of setting up a home made DIY synthetic biology laboratory. It was a really great session and the start of links between the synthetic Biology researchers at the University and the wider synthetic biology community within Leeds!

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