Wiki Interviews

Given that synthetic biology involves creating novel living organisms, social and ethical concerns are of primordial importance to address in order to insure the successful introduction of the technologies we are striving to create. While the largest part of our work is in the laboratory, many iGem teams have investigated the perception and concerns of a variety of people on social and ethical issues relating to synthetic biology. However, all these efforts are spread over the different teams, and there is no clear overview of these issues. One part of our human practices focuses on creating such a platform to better understand the place of synthetic biology in society. To that end, we created a tool that scanned interviews and communications to the public on existing iGem between 2008 and 2012.


Our main aims are:
  1. To create a toolkit that retrieves interviews based on the keywords:
    1. ethics
    2. regulation
    3. safety
    4. innovation
    5. Other relevant documents
  2. To explore which topics were mostly discussed during the interviews as well as the background of the people participated in the interviews. In particular, we set up a number of questions to evaluate what was in the database.
    1. How many interviews talk about safety?
    2. How many interviews talk about regulation?
    3. How many interviews talk about ethics?
    4. How many interviews talked about innovation??
    5. What kind of people were interviewed?
    6. How many interviews were carried out per year?
  3. To give further suggestions for future teams in order to better understanding social and ethical issues synthetic biology applications may face. Understanding these issues will allow a more successful introduction of these technologies in society.


We created a simple web crawler written in C language. In that way, we browsed all Human Practice pages from the wikis sites during the period 2008 to 2012. If the word "interview/interviews" was detected, then a page with an interview was found! However, one limitation to this approach is that if there is an interview in a wiki but it is not under the Human Practice page or it is not stated as ‘interview’, but as "talk" for example), we fail to retrieve it.

After obtaining the interviews, we created a database containing:

  1. Link to the interview
  2. The team that performed the interview
  3. Name of the person interviewed (if available)
  4. Type of person interviewed
  5. Year of the interview


  1. Topics of interviews:
    Amongst the topics we found relevant to human practice, we find that the majority of interviews focus on safety, followed by ethics and regulation
  2. Interviewees
    There are different backgrounds of people interviewed, with the majority of them ( > 60%) to have a scientific background. There is a big share of interviews that are on other topics we had not identified as important beforehand (Other: 20.4 %). More research should be done to identify other relevant human practices topcis.
  3. The number of the interviews increased drastically in 2011-2012.
    1. 2008: 5%
    2. 2009: 18.1%
    3. 2010: 6%
    4. 2011: 31.9%
    5. 2012: 38.9%


Our recommendations for future teams based on the conclusions derived above are:
  1. More interviews should be taken related to regulations and ethics.. We believe this will facilitate a growing understanding of the social and ethical landscape in which the synthetic biology applications are introduced, and therefore support their successful introduction in society.
  2. Even if many interviews discuss about safety, it remains the most important concern to investigate. As many unknowns surround biotechnologies, we need to continue researching and learning about the technologies we are developing in order to prevent undesired side effects.
  3. Most interviewees have a scientific background. Future interviews should focus efforts on other relevant stakeholder groups such as politicians and civil servants, civil society, industry, and anyone who may be relevant to the discussion.
  4. Teams carrying interviews in the future should label them in a way that makes them easier to find and access with our toolkit, or any other similar tools.
  5. Many interviews proved to be very technical, it would be desirable to provide summaries that communicate the main points of these interviews in a language accessible to the public. In that way, people without scientific background can also be informed and may be interested in synthetic biology.

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