Team:Bielefeld-Germany/HumanPractice/Biosafety Motivation


Biosafety Motivation


One important part of our project is the design of safety systems. It is essential to reduce risks which could possibly endanger the environment or the public. Especially in Germany the discussion about genetically modified systems is always present in the media. The German public is very skeptical about genetic engineering for example in food. A survey was published by "BUND" which shows that 75% of the thousand asked Germans want labels which declare if a product is produced without genetic engineering. When these consumers had the opportunity to choose between two products, one with the label and one without it, they would prefer buying the one with the declaration. “Die Welt”, one of the biggest German newspaper, published an article in 2012 about the fact that Germany should use genetic engineering and should not defeat it. The German public is concerned about genetic engineering because they don't know much about it. Movies strengthen this fear when showing that genetic engineering is a huge risk which can cause a super-virus which transforms humans into zombies like in “28 days later”.

As Meyer reported in 2013: “On 20 May 2010, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute announced the creation of the first synthetic bacterium, whose genome had entirely been synthesized in the lab. At a press conference, biologist Craig Venter stated: “This is the first self-replicating species that we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”(ABCnews, 2010). Only a few weeks later, the movie Splice was released in the United States (US). The film tells the story of two young scientists who engineer new synthetic creatures in the lab by combining DNA from different organisms. The concomitance of Venter’s alleged breakthrough in synthetic biology (SB) and the movie’s start in the US cinemas at almost the same time can certainly be seen as pure coincidence. Although it goes without doubt that the film makers have largely been inspired by research currently done in the field of SB and even advised by a group of scientists. Nevertheless, such parallels between fiction and reality as exemplified here are very likely to influence the awareness and perception by the audience of this new and emerging field of biology”. (Meyer A. et al., 2013) This citation shows that on the one hand the film industry adresses the topic Synthetic Biology, which is good, but on the other hand this industrie represent this science in a threatening way. This arises excitement by the viewer but also fear and cast a damning light on this filed of research.

Our aim is to inform the German society that Synthetic Biology and genetic engineering is a huge advantage that has got unused potential if it is applied responsibly. Because of this we organized a Synbioday with other German iGEM teams. We asked the public about Synthetic Biology and what they think about genetic engineering. There we also talked about the applications of Synthetic Biology. For example the pharmaceutical product Artemisinin, originally isolated out of a plant, can be efficiently produced in a genetically engineered yeast. Artemisinin works against malaria tropica which can now be produced in a sufficient way.
Because of the fact that the public is frightened about genetic engineering we told them about our safety system we use in our application. We explained that this Biosafety aspect is essential to protect public and environment when using the application outside of the laboratory. We prepared a survey to get an impression of the public's opinion.