Human Practice

The human practice part of Tsinghua IGEM team includes cooperation with other teams, routine events of the Association of Synthetic Biology in Tsinghua, scientific movie series and surveys targeting to a wide range of people from different backgrounds.

Routine events of synthetic biology association:

  • Publicizing iGEM and synthetic biology
  • Movie Series
  • Novel

Publicizing iGEM and synthetic biology

Our team has held many lectures introducing iGEM as well as synthetic biology for students from different departments in Tinsghua., We encouraged the students attending our lectures to join our 2013 team via the introduction. Over 50 applicants handed in their application materials with expression of strong interests in synthetic biology, one of them even planned to choose synthetic biology as his field of interest for future Ph.D studies. After two rounds of selection and discussion (we had even argued about the admission of applicants for 7 hours until midnight.)

We took advantages of every activity in our university to publicize iGEM and synthetic biology to the students. In a scientific exhibition held by school, we presented Tsinghua iGEM projects in the previous years, and introduced synthetic biology as well as iGEM competition to many people interested.

Even the vice president of the university was attracted by our poster.

He listened to our introduction carefully and asked a lot of questions about the potential application of synthetic biology. He said excitedly that the school should encourage more students to participate in the competition to broaden their horizons.

Collaboration with other iGEM team is one of our best traditions. We believe that we can all learn from each other via these events and bring the idea of synthetic biology to a larger population.

The Association of Synthetic Biology in Tsinghua is the base of the team because it is the origin where all sorts of ideas are brought up and discussed. Owing to it, we have a better understanding about our project and synthetic biology itself.

Movie Series

The movie series of Tsinghua IGEM team constitutes another important part of Human Practice of our team.

In recent years, a growing number of reports related to severe illnesses including cancer and cardiovascular diseases keep raising awareness of health issues among Chinese people. In many cases, environmental factors weigh more than genetic problems in causing those diseases. Hence, paying attention to the food we eat, the environment we live in is definitely of a great importance.

In response to the awareness of the public, programs introducing different methods of health care in everyday life are very popular on massive media like TV, internet or radio. Introducing health care knowledge itself is becoming a kind of business attracting people of all walks of life to make money from them. Among these programs, some are not as qualified as others in term of professional understanding. However, owing to their speaking skills and commercial operations, some of their misleading theories are even more popular among the public. One example is a man named Wuben Zhang. He claimed that bark is the most important part of a tree because even a thin circular elimination of bark will result in the death of the tree. Mung bean is a popular star in his theory, because according to him, mung bean has the power to cure almost everything. Thanks to him, the price of mung beans doubled in only three months because too many people bought a huge amount of them.

The fact that so many people believe in him really astonished us. What seem to be common senses to us are sometimes not well understood by others, and knowledge related to biology and health care happen to be extremely important for everyday health and discriminating right from wrong. Being a student majored in biology, we feel like it is our duty to help the public understand more. But knowledge itself is usually something boring to memorize, while what we want to emphasize is the interest to study biology. As a result, we came up with the idea to create a series of movies introducing interesting facts in biology. Especially, the movies were taken in the form of stop motion animation, which brings a lot of fun to the series.

Making a movie is not easy. We started by writing our own scripts. Then by using cardboard and plasticine, we got our major actor and actress. Other talented team members were responsible for filming, voice playing and post production. Final products were posted on video websites including youtube, and these videos have by far been viewed for 6500 times in total. We also received many positive feedbacks from the audience. One video about neuroscience even helped a high school student to review for exams.


At the very beginning when our team was still experiencing brainstorming of the idea of the project, we had a heated debate with the advisor of our team. We wanted to use yeast as our system because it was safer and more suitable to reflect the conception of “switchable box”. Yet the advisor was worried. Since our iGEM laboratory has never used yeast system in the previous years, the costs of establishing a new system might be too high. Thus our idea was not supported at the beginning. At that time, every team member was anxious and even upset because E.coli, while easier to handle, is clearly not the ideal system in our design.

It was at that time when a team member wrote a funny and yet absurd story on the social network, the major part of which describing how a very smart girl tried her best to get five million yuan even regardless of her life. The readers were attracted and wondered why the girl wanted the money so much. The ending was surprising: the girl used the money to synthesize a part of the yeast genome for the iGEM competition. The novel has amazing hits (over 7,0000) and is shared by over 4,000 people. The original version of the novel can be viewed on this link (in Chinese):

Since then, many students from different universities emailed us and discussed the background of the novel. In this way our team members introduced synthetic biology and iGEM to them. We had a heated discussion about the system chosen for different synthetic biology topics. Surprisingly, many don’t even know there are other systems besides E.coli used in synthetic biology. It was good to know that their previous views were changed by the discussion raised by the novel.

Basing on what had happened, we found social network a very effective platform for discussing and publicizing synthetic biology. Thus we established a public home page for synthetic biology on a facebook-like website in China. We released several short movies on the home page which are very interesting but trigger profound thinking of synthetic biology as well. One of the movies, though only a science fiction by imagination, actually raised an ethical issue about transgenders. Now the public home page is quite hot and has many fans.

In our opinions, many topics in biology are rather close to everyone’s life - closer than something like affairs of pop stars. That is why many students who are not majored in biology or don’t know about synthetic biology well are also involved in the discussion about synthetic biology and actually raised some good suggestions. Yet for most people, they receive information mainly from the internet rather than posters in a science building or long lectures with unattractive topics like “what is synthetic biology”. This way they can hardly be blamed for caring more about entertainment news instead of the exciting achievements in science and technologies. However, by using social network, we developed a successful way to publicize science and evoke rational discussions in attractive forms like novels and movies. It proved that there were more people interested in synthetic biology than we had thought. We believe publicizing science by interesting forms and discussing it online will also work in other fields.