Team:BGU Israel/HPOverview



Human Practice Overview

In the earliest stages of brainstorming about our project, we asked ourselves:

What is standing in the way of making synthetic biology projects reality?

There are hundreds of biologically engineered systems that have been developed, but the move from the lab into the real world has been slow. What is holding up progress? We concluded that there are two main issues that are stopping this field from realizing its full potential:

1) There are too many risks and unknown consequences.

2) There is not enough public support.

Our project, the development of an autonomous self-destruct mechanism to control GMO populations after release, focused on the former, but what about public opinion?

Although synthetic biology research is developing at a dizzying pace, the general public has been left behind with the same misconceptions and concerns. The representation of advances in this field in the mainstream media is shallow and often misleading, and the level of scientific literacy among the general public is sadly lacking.

The novel approach we suggest is based on massive outreach and creativity & innovation.

”After all, there is room for only one Prime Minister, but for those who make the desert bloom there is room for hundreds, thousands and even millions. And the destiny of the state is in the hands of the many rather than of a single individual.” [1]    David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel.

We embarked on a massive outreach campaign to encourage discourse with the public about synthetic biology, in order to dispel misconceptions and foster debate. By spreading the word about iGEM and our project, we gave people a chance, sometimes for the first time, to hear about synthetic biology and about the innovative biological patents that already exist. We saw this happen first within our team: because we come from a wide range of disciplines, there are some members who had no scientific background at all, and who were amazed by the capabilities of synthetic biology. The resulting dialogue ended up benefiting both sides, as the non-biologists brought a fresh perspective and challenged some of the precepts that those of us in research tend to take for granted.

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.

Our university is located in Beersheba, the capital of the Negev desert: once a barren desert, today the fruitful site of research and education. Our university is also well known for social activism and outreach work, with many students who volunteer and get involved with the larger community. We took inspiration from David Ben Gurion’s determination and vision, and from the activist atmosphere in the university, and thought of some creative and innovative ways to get a discussion about synthetic biology started in the Israeli public. The work of researchers is crucial, but as Ben Gurion said, destiny is in the hands of the many, not the few.

Click here to view the human practice notebook and meetings summary.

Our human practice activities can be divided into the following three categories:

Continue the journey: read about the Survey.

[1]DAVID BEN-GURION, “Why I Retired to the Desert,” The New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1954, p. 47.