Team:Warsaw/Strategy overview


Strategy Overview


Why you’d better learn more about synthetic biology?

What seems to be the problem?

GMO discussions stirr a lot of controversy all over the world. However, according to a survey conducted this year by TNS Pentor for the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw 66% of adults with Polish citizenship have no idea what GMO actually is. When respondents were asked to give an example of such organism, the most common answers were soya, rapeseed, corn and... cows (23%)! On the opposite, only 30% of those interviewed knew that Escherichia coli can be genetically modified to produce insulin. Furthermore, 60% of the people surveyed knew that GMO law is different in every country.

We asked ourselves...

... how can we discuss new biotechnologies applications, medical engineering and innovations in synthetic biology with other people if they do not exactly know what it is?! Thus the FluoSafe Human Practice part has become a chance to change this situation, an opportunity to educate society and to subside the most common fears connected with the use of genetic engineering (and synthetic biology in general).

Who was our target?

It was somewhat difficult for us (young students) to talk with elder people that have authority (because of their age). So we decided to get the attention of young people since when they become future politicians, journalists, managers and above all consumers they should be more aware of the technologies that are surrounding them. Although according to a Millward Brown survey more than 63% Polish students appreciate the influence of genetic engineering (which is more than among their older relatives), we still did not consider these findings optimistic.

Why did we choose acrylamide and biosafety as our Human Practice main theme?

We aimed to convey a following message: products of biological engineering can be safely used in everyday life. There are plenty of topics you can talk about with your friends, but one of them appears always - food. So our next thought was: what if we can design a bacterial sensor that would encourage people to make their diet more healthy and safe? What should those bacteria do? Detection of acrylamide, which is both a carcinogen and a neurotoxin present in some thermally processed food, seemed to fit perfectly. Everybody loves cakes, roasted meat, crisps! Not only is it ubiquitous, but also (unlike to some other canrcinogens, such as PAHs) it is a commonly used lab reagent soluble in water.

What have we done to make young people in Poland more aware?

The Science Fair of the Polish Radio and the Copernicus Science Centre - 15th June 2013 The Science Fair of the Polish Radio and the Copernicus Science Centre is the largest european outdoor event aimed to promote science. Every year, it attracts crowds of visitors interested in science. Scientific institutions, universities, research institutes, museums, cultural institutions, and foundations related to science present their achievements and reveal behind-the-scenes aspects of their everyday work. They comprehensibly present science to audiences of various ages, with the aid of experiments, demonstrations and interactive exhibits. The Fair represents different scientific disciplines: natural science, social science, and humanities. Each edition of the event involves about 250 institutions from Poland and abroad (including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Morocco, Portugal, Federal Republic of Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, USA, Sweden, Hungary, Great Britain, and Italy). More informations here

Street survey: the more people the more opinions vary (7-8th July 2013)

The Science Picnic helped us a lot to see what children and young students think about genetic engineering. This was the first step to create a good strategy of conveying our message about biosafety and usefulness of synthetic biology to young Polish people and tourists. Moreover, not only did we ask people about their opinions, but we also discussed with them about genetic engineering and presented how synthetic biology works. Thus we promoted the idea of iGEM to a broad audience.

To discover opinions of random people (that we met in various spots in Warsaw) we asked them the following questions:
  • What do you think about synthetic biology?
  • Would you eat a GMO? Is it legal to cultivate GMO in Poland commercially?
  • Would you use a GMO in a medical treatment?
  • What other uses of GMO do you know?
  • Would you like to have an acrylamide sensor in your kitchen to protect your health?

What do you think about synthetic biology?

Most of the people we met associated synthetic biology with fabric or some kind of plastic, because the name contains "synthetic", so the direct association usually was with synthetic chemistry. Only 4 out of 40 respondents correctly linked the name with genetic engineering. This question show us how limited is the knowledge about GMO among the people we interviewed.

Would you eat a GMO?

As we walked through the Warsaw Old Town, most of those people we asked this question was rather skeptical to the idea of consuming food produced with the use of genetic engineering even if they objectively couldn't identify any specific risk associated with GE food products. Only 5 people would accept a GMO dinner every day. However, the number of people awared that cultivation of GMO plants is strongly limited in our country was surprisingly high. This question tested the level of social trust to genetic engineering and confront TNS Pentor outcome

Would you use a GMO in a medical treatment?

Contrary to consumption of GMO food, which is rather a matter of choice, when it comes to life or health-threatening situation all of our respondents accepted the use of GMO and other products of genetic engineering. Thus when emergency increases the level of risk tolerance or in a common opinion medical use of GMO is perceived more positively than the GMO use in the food industry.

What uses of GMO do you know?

Undoubtedly, the most common use of genetic engineering is the food industry and medicine. None of our respondents knew any other possibilities. This situation proves that synthetic biology is still too abstract for most of the people we had the chance to talk to and that scientists in Poland should try harder to present their concepts to the society.

Would you like to have an acrylamide biosensor in your kitchen to protect your health?

Before asking our respondents this question we carefully described the goals of the iGEM competition and the aims of the FluoSafe project to only half of them. We wanted to check whether peoples' attitude toward new biotechnological solutions varies according to the amount of information they get about them. All the well-informed people decided they would use FluoSafe sensor, while only half of those not informed at all shared their opinion. What is more, we have noticed that most of our interlocutors would ask us more questions when they saw the acrylamide sensor could help them to make their food safer.

Having confronted TNS Pentor outcomes with our own experience now we could plan our Human Practice strategy with the aim of teaching young Polish citizens about the security and utility of synthetic biology.

Facebook and popular meme websites – July and August

As the Science Fair was devoted rather for children and high school students, we used Facebook to communicate with people predominantly aged 18-24 years (65% of our fans). Posts on our fan page can all be rougly divided into three categories:

  • information and synthetic biology news (to let people discover how useful, surprising and safe synthetic biology is)
  • team progress and media coverage (to present our work and to generate users activity)
  • viral fun content (to attract the users attention)

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