Team:BGU Israel/Outreach


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Outreach Starting a Discussion

Outreach Introduction

We embarked on a massive outreach campaign to encourage discourse with the public about synthetic biology, in order to dispel misconceptions and foster debate. Our outreach campaign was aimed at reaching as many people from different communities and age groups as possible. We wanted to burst out of the invisible walls separating the academy from the general public and trigger discussions in a variety of platforms, making the subject accessible to all.

SynBio for Kids

It’s a cliché, but children really are the future (and so is synthetic biology!). We believe that exposing children to science is crucial for creating the next generation of researchers and their supporters. Therefore, we wanted to make sure that our outreach campaign reached not only adults but children and teenagers as well, to get them thinking at an early age about synthetic biology and the challenges and possibilities it offers. Synthetic biology is a natural match for kids’ unlimited curiosity and creativity: it’s like playing Lego with life!

Science Night

Team BGU_Israel participated in the annual Science Night, a science festival for children that took place in several cities around the country, particularly in our university. The festival included numerous lectures, movie screenings, tours in university facilities, exhibitions, and activities, oriented especially for kids, families, and anyone interested in a peek into the world of science.

Our team set up a few stands with a number of activities for children to learn about synthetic and micro biology: growing bacteria from your finger on petri dishes before and after using hand sanitizer (showing the importance of washing your hands as well!), and writing your name in DNA by translating English letters into codons and making the sequence into colorful decorations of DNA strands for the upcoming holiday season. For the parents and older children, we presented the iGEM foundation and our project, and distributed our public opinion survey about synthetic biology.

Activity Kit

Since Science Night was such a big success, we decided to make our activities and materials available for anyone to easily use. And so, we present the "SynBio Activity Kit for Kids", including detailed explanation about the activities plus all materials needed. We hope many future teams will use these activities and add their own!

Get the full SynBio Activity Kit for Kids:


We took a two-pronged approach to our media campaign in order to make synthetic biology accessible to as many people as possible through a wide variety of channels.

New Media: The Bottom-Up Approach

For many people, new media, including websites, blogs, and social networks, has become a major source of information about the world. Its unique advantage over forms of traditional media is that it enables a direct dialog between the public and the source, in which people can express their positions freely. It can also make information accessible to a wider range of people, who are not involved in the field or who don’t read traditional news sources. For researchers, new media is an important tool to enable a complex issue, such as synthetic biology, to become accessible for the general public.

During the past months, we addressed the public through a wide range of channels, including:

  1. A number of blogs: end of the world, a view from the bleachers, and Up to a Constant.
  2. Podcasts

  3. We opened a Youtube channel featuring a whiteboard animation explaining our project and a number of other videos of our group at various events.

  4. Our official Facebook page received more than 3,000 likes and has reached over 200,000 people from over 20 different countries. The page has allowed us to directly interact with people and answer their concerns and questions, and we have received hundreds of messages and comments on Facebook.

    Our personal favorite was a message from a fourteen year old girl: ”Science has been my biggest dream since I was a child. You have inspired me to believe I can fulfill this dream one day.” She heard about the project through a popular Facebook page called ”Tweeting Statuses”, which posted a goofy picture of the team with a caption explaining our project, and got around 3,400 likes and over 600 shares the day it was posted.

  5. We also launched a crowd-funding campaign, which we introduced our project and synthetic biology while in the same time asking for help from the public to raise the last of the needed funds to participate in the competition. The campaign was a huge success, beyond our wildest expactations. We raised close to $15,000 which is 171% of our initial goal!.

Our Facebook exposure chart up to mid September:

Conventional Media: The Top-Down Approach

Despite the recent rise of new media, conventional media still has enormous influence in education and creating a public debate.
In general, stories in newspapers, TV programs, and news websites have a longer, more informative format, and we took advantage of all three for our human practice campaign.
Moreover, traditional media reaches segments of the population who are not necessarily active on Facebook or other new media sources.

  1. A feature story about our project and the iGEM competition was broadcasted on Israel’s national television, and we also appeared on a morning show on Channel 2, Israel’s most viewed channel.

  2. We were also interviewed on Israel’s national radio and in the South’s regional radio.

  3. One of Israel’s biggest economic news sources, the Calcalist, published a printed as well as digital article about the project and the iGEM competition.

  4. We also appeared in Israel’s biggest science news website – Hayadaan and in the synthetic biology website GetSynBio.

  5. The project was covered in a two-page spread in Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s most popular printed newspaper, and a version of the article appeared in the homepage of its online counterpart, the most popular news website in Israel, Ynet News.


”Tweeting Statuses” post about iGEM-BGU

Our team’s Facebook Page

Our Headstart crowdfunding site

”Destroying Themselves”, Yediot Ahronot’s article about iGEM_BGU.

”The Bacteria that Destroy Themselves”, iGEM_BGU in Ynet News

iGEM_BGU on the Channel 1 News

iGEM_BGU on the Channel 2 News


Decision & Policy makers

Changes, especially great ones, are complex. Technological solution is the beginning. Public support is essential. But for a change to happen, one must reach decision makers and stakeholders. We divided our efforts into two tangential paths – professional and political. Both are the key component in any decision making process.

Professional decision makers

We addressed all relevant governmental offices which regulate the use of synthetic biology products – health ministry, environmental protection ministry and the agriculture ministry.

Consultations with Dr. Orna Matzner, head of the Science Unit in the Ministry of Environmental Protection's Chief Scientist's Office were essential to our project. "The problem", explained Dr. Matzner, "is that regulation often trails behind technology. What we need is responsible development of technology that will take into account the environmental and health implications of that technology."

We were pleased to demonstrate to Dr. Matzner that our tool, in fact, ensures that biosafety is not compromised through the use of synthetic biology. It allows the use of biosynthetic technology while protecting biodiversity. This is especially imperative in Israel due to the high population density in the country and the close proximity of residential areas to industry, agriculture, and open spaces.

Ministry of health chief scientist is a leading professional authority. He is responsible for the authorization of pharmaceuticals and food, both of them are fields which synthetic biology attend to take a great role in the coming years. "we are always trying to find balance between research needs and the public health" says Dr. Michal simovich. This bureau support is mandatory if we want to gain the public’s trust in our mechanism and in its reliability. According to "regulation of biological diseases generators" law, if the institutional committee saw that the damage exceeds the expected research fear of harming state security or public safety , health or security, it will instruct the researcher to continue editing the study regarding to that request of the committee . Additional laws were brought up in the meeting regarding novel food harsh registration. It is important to note that the high committee of clinical trials in humans, or the Helsinki committee, is also under the responsibility of the chief scientist. During the meeting, the leading scientist noted that many more tests and examinations should be done - before using iGEM-BGU’s technology as a standard in any synthetic biology product inserted to the human body. However, it was also been noted that once found reliable, our technology brings synthetic biology one step closer to fulfil its promising medical revolution.

We have also met the chief scientist in the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, Dr. Avi Perl. He opened the session saying "Agriculture harms the environment - no matter what you do. the transgenic agriculture do not harm the environment more then natural agriculture" He kept on explaining us the complex process of approving a development, "The committee deals with genetically engineered plants in Israel named “Vartzam”, In order to get permission for agriculture uses you must prove that the chance to pass on traits non-deliberately is negligible, so as presenting a proof that those GMO’s are vanishing from the environment after reasonable time, leaving the environment intact". His office is the main authority in implementing new technologies in agriculture field. Since Israel is a world-leader in agriculture technologies, we aimed to start the implementation of our technology from this field. After we demonstrated the chief scientist that a reliable safety mechanism is very well at reach he emphasized that "If our vision is to release GEMs to the nature then the terminator is an integral part of it!", Yet first we should use the self destruct mechanism in a contained environment like bioreactor." This way our bio-safety mechanism can very well begin its implementation in upcoming years and live experiments can be held.

Other important aspect of decision making is the economic one. There are plenty of wonderful groundbreaking ideas out there. Unfortunately, many of them are too expensive to implement. Our technology is not only simple, but is also cheap to install in any synthetic biology product you have. Its approximated cost is one hundred dollars for P.A.S.E 1 and two hundred dollars for P.A.S.E 2, what constitute only a small fraction of the expenses required in development and production of synthetic biology deliverables.

The President of Israel’s Endorsements

We believe that our mission of promoting synthetic biology is a matter of national interest. Therefore we strived to meet with the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, in order to seek his endorsement and support for our project and for our ultimate goal. We met with his advisors and presented them our project requesting to set up a meeting. A week later we received a personal letter written by the President and a date was set to meet with him in person when we return from the Regional Jamboree.

From the Presidents’s letter:

” I have no doubt that your impactful groundbreaking project will reflect your exciting scientific creativity and initiative, and demonstrate the significant contribution that it would make in the field of synthetic biology, a field that I am certain will play a central role in the world in the years to come. ”

Read the President’s letter

The Science Minister of Israel talking about Synthetic Biology

Special Events

Team BGU_Israel brought synthetic biology to a number of creative venues, to reach some unique audiences and place the discussion in a new context. Ever read a great science fiction novel and discover that actually, it’s close to becoming reality? Or ever go to a wine-tasting and get a taste of synthetic biology? And Ever attended a day of lectures for the general public inspired by synthetic biology?

The Lab: Scientists, Designers and Authors Explore the Frontier and Imagine the Future

Team BGU_Israel participated in an evening of short lectures and videos by authors, scientists, and entrepreneurs as a part of Festival Utopia: Science, Imagination, and the Future. The theme of the evening was science that verges on science fiction, and we spoke about the iGEM project and the future of synthetic biology. The event marked the inauguration of a new project called The Lab, aimed to bring together such cultural figures and scientists to prompt a new and fresh multi-disciplinary conversation. It took place in the Google Campus in Tel Aviv, and was also supported by the US Embassy, the Tel Aviv Municipality, and the Ministry of Culture.

Wine Festival

Ever go to a wine-tasting and get a taste of synthetic biology? Team BGU_Israel was invited by the Beersheba Municipality to participate in its annual wine festival. We set up a stand along top wineries, food stalls and live music, to talk to the general public about synthetic biology over a glass of wine. There was a lot of interest and the event created some wonderful dialogue (especially as the night went on and the attendees got tipsier…).

Meet SynBio at BGU

Synthetic biology sounds amazing, but the true magic lies in the lab work. This is the basis of a special hands-on synthetic biology seminar, organized by Team BGU_Israel. We gathered a number of leaders, entrepreneurs, and researchers to experience synthetic biology up close and personal. Attendees range from the Head of Planning and personal manager in the IDF; high ranked officer from the intelligence corps; CEO of, Israeli candidate in Google Lunar XPRIZE; CEO of Israeli Aerospace Industry factory; A leading Israeli researcher in nanotechnology; And a researcher in The interdisciplinary Center for Technology Analysis & Forecasting in Tel Aviv University. The lab experience will be followed by a conference, with lectures open to the public on the science of synthetic biology, as well as the industrial and philosophical ramifications.

Check out the event's schedule here.

Israel and Beyond - Meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Lyon

Beer Sheva and Lyon have been sister cities since 1980 and we pursued this opportunity to reach out to people beyond Israel. We set up a meeting with the deputy mayor of Lyon, Ms. Evelyne Haguenauer, on October 9th at the city hall of Lyon, just before the Jamboree begins. We intend to present our project to her and exchange flags.


To spice up our outreach efforts, we looked for humorous, creative and fun ways to promote synthetic biology.
One of our initiatives was connecting synthetic biology to art!

Click on any image you like to view the full size Gallery.

SynBio Caricature Competition

We organized a synthetic biology caricature contest that we advertised in various art programs and on Facebook, to give a chance for art creative way to explain synthetic biology in an illustration of any kind. Our purpose was both to collect funny and sharp caricatures and to let people with no biological background think about synthetic biology and describe it or criticize it using art.

        Here are few of the beautiful submissions:

A Gallery in Google Campus

We took interesting pictures and illustrations of past iGEM projects and made them into an iGEM gallery, to pique interest in synthetic biology.
The exhibit included 20 pictures from past iGEM groups, each with a short caption explaining the project and the image. The gallery was
shown in the Tel Aviv Google Campus during an evening of mini-lectures in which we participated as a part of Festival Utopia.

Bio Ethics

As part of our outreach efforts, we wanted to understand and foster dialogue regarding the ethical concerns that people have about the field of synthetic biology. Our purpose was not only to hear people’s thoughts, but also to give them a voice and an opportunity to interact with researchers. The release of genetically modified organisms could affect society as a whole, and therefore the public should be well informed, educated, and given the chance to voice opinions and concerns.

To do so, we included a question in Our survey asking whether the respondent identified with a number of ethical concerns, and added an open field where people could write any other thoughts they had, which 122 people filled out. In addition, we asked the same question in our Facebook group and a number of other online forums. To get some varied perspectives, we also spoke to Yael Ifergan, the head of the Greenpeace Israel campaign for marking genetically engineered products, and Prof. Isaac (Yanni) Nevo, the chair of the Ben Gurion University Department of Philosophy.

Here, we have highlighted four different concerns that arose again and again, and attempted to address them and consider their consequences.

1. Genetic engineering will be abused by big corporations for profit.

”There’s a starting advantage to the large companies in the market (like Monsanto), that behave immorally and without inhibitions to maximize their bottom line. The problem is the social infrastructure for using the technology, not the technology itself. ”

”It will be possible to patent DNA sequences (as is being tried today). Like if someone patents a variety of tomatoes, you won’t be able to grow it in your garden without paying. ”

”Genetic engineering, politics, and large amounts of money is a dangerous mix. ”

Variations of this concern were among the most popular responses in the free-response section of the survey, and it is one of the main focuses of the Greenpeace campaign against genetic modification. The story of Monsanto has resonated with the public (a number of respondents mentioned them by name), and remains a dominant feature of the debate surrounding genetically modified crops. Just this August, a group of anti-GMO activists in the Philippines destroyed a field of ”Golden Rice”, a beta-carotene enriched strain of rice designed to combat Vitamin A deficiency, for this reason.[1]

The question of patenting gene sequences is currently being debated in courts across the world. A recent landmark ruling by the US Supreme court in June 2013 ruled it illegal to patent naturally occurring genes, but that synthetic gene sequences can be patented.[1] There is a delicate balance between giving incentives to invest money in scientific research, while not making new discoveries prohibitively expensive. This debate has been going on for years in relation to the patent of new medicines: it can take up to 25 years in the US and Europe until generic, less expensive versions of medications become available.

These issues are starting to become relevant as synthetic biology matures, and the coming years will see important legal decisions and regulations, hopefully that balance economic incentives with social repercussions. A promising development is the rise of non-profit NGO’s that support GMO projects. Examples include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,[2] which has funded the development of Golden Rice and other crops for use in developing countries, and of course, the iGEM foundation. iGEM’s BioBrick Registry is a library of gene sequences that are open source and in the public domain, available for researchers or anyone else to freely use.

2. Genetic engineering will increase the gap between rich and poor.

”Genetic improvements will be available only to the rich, like plastic surgery today. ”

”There will be discrimination on a genetic basis. ”

”I’m afraid of the social consequences of advanced genetic engineering, which could create a situation in which the rich are more intelligent, live longer, and hold most of the resources, while the poor are ”slaves” and fair competition and class mobility will become impossible. ”

This was not a concern that we considered beforehand, and therefore we were surprised that it came up again and again in the survey responses and on Facebook. In general, synthetic biology has the potential to dramatically improve life for the very poor. Initiatives like nutrient-enriched crops, bacteria that detect and purify contaminated water, and biological solutions to decrease costs of medicine production hold the potential to benefit first and foremost developing countries.

Another point to consider is that costs associated with genetics have plummeted at an exponential rate: sequencing the human genome cost $1 million in 2007, and just five years later the cost is $1000 to $4000, with hopes to reduce it to under $100 in the near future. While manipulation of the human genome is still far from actual clinical trials, more immediate applications, such as screening for genetic diseases, are already becoming standard medical tools, not just the exclusive property of the rich.

However, these respondents are probably right regarding the genetic engineering of human beings: when this becomes possible, it will likely be available first and foremost to the rich. However, the question is if this is inherently different than other advantages available to the upper-class, such as excellent healthcare and education. This is a larger question about social justice; in any case, it is our hope that biotechnology will improve the quality of life for everyone, rich and poor.

3. This technology could be used for biological warfare.

”Even Einstein didn’t know that nuclear technology would be used for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ”

”As technology becomes less expensive over time, it could fall into the hands of the wrong people. ”

”Scientists don’t have enough control over the future uses of technology that they are creating for innocent purposes. ”

In our survey, 45% of people identified with the following concern, more than for any other option: ”It will be possible to use genetic engineering for harmful purposes such as biological warfare. ” The parallel between biological and nuclear warfare also came up in a number of responses. This discussion seems especially relevant today, in the shadow of the recent accusations of biological warfare in Syria.

How can we prevent the militarization of science? Some ideas are outlined in David Suzuki’s and Peter Knudtson’s Genethics: The Clash Between the New Genetics and Human Values.[2]

  1. Strong, international treaties dedicated to preventing biological warfare. Such a treaty exists, the Biological Weapons Convention from 1975, but it allows for a number of loopholes, such as outlawing only the ”development” of biological weapons but not ”research”, providing no concrete upper limit on ”acceptable” stockpiles of weapons, and allowing stockpiling for defensive needs.[2]
  2. The creation of a scientific code of ethics, similar to the Hippocratic Oath for doctors. Courses on ethics and discussions of moral questions should be a mandatory part of university education for scientists.
  3. An end to secrecy regarding the research of biological warfare. At the moment, much of government research is confidential, or hidden under the guise of defensive measures. This veil of secrecy has crippled public debate and left the actual state of biological weaponry unclear.

4. GMOs will undergo mutations and researchers will lose control over them.

”Genetic engineering isn’t predictable, there are always mutations, so it’s possible to create bacteria and viruses that will attack humans—Frankenstein’s monster will turn on its creator. ”

”It could be like in the movie I Am Legend, where they tried to program bacteria to prevent cancer, and in the end it spread and turned all of humanity into zombies. ”

”The creation of organisms with high resistance to any attempts to neutralize them. ”

The technical concept of genetic mutation has long existed in literature, science fiction, and comic books, and many of our respondents referred to these popular icons. Antibiotic resistance has also become a part of the cultural horizon in recent years, as developing resistant infectious strains have been extensively covered in the media. While the comparisons to Frankenstein and zombies are slightly extreme, there is no doubt that mutations and resistance are real issues that the scientific community is worried about as well.

There are extensive efforts being invested in order to limit the possibility that bacteria could undergo mutations or transfer genes. Examples of intrinsic containment mechanisms being developed include conditional suicide systems, in which the bacteria die once a supplement or their target nutrient is depleted, and gene-flow barriers, that prevent the transmission of genes to other micro-organisms.[3] Team BGU_Israel is also contributing to this field: we are developing a timed, autonomous self-destruct mechanism. Such methods are tested extensively in the lab and in controlled environments, and will continue to be tested before GMOs are released in the environment. Of course, it is impossible to state with absolute certainty that any new technology will not have adverse effects on the environment, as history has proven again and again. However, we can say that the scientific community is aware and working actively on the risks involved in mutations and resistance, and proceeding with all due caution.

Continue the journey: read about our Continuity.


[1] Harmon, Amy (2013) ‘Golden Rice: Lifesaver?’, The New York Times, 24 August. Available online
[2] Liptak, Adam (2013) ‘Justices, 9-0, Bar Patenting Genes,’ The New York Times, 13 June. Available online
[3] The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ‘What We Do: Agricultural Development.’ Available online
[4] Zimmerman, Eilene (2013) ‘The race to a $100 genome,’ CNNMoney, 25 June. Available online
[5] Suzuki, David; Knudtson, Peter. Genethics: The Clash Between the New Genetics and Human Values. Harvard University Press, 1990. 192-221.
[6] Ibid., 215.
[7] Moe-Behrens, G. H. G., Davis, R., Haynes, K. A., Preparing synthetic biology for the world. Front Microbiol. 4(5) 2013, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00005