Team:NJU China/Human Practice


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Synthetic biology free debate Reach the unreached Synthetic biology workshop Collaboration

Synthetic biology free debate

Ethical issue has always been a concern in the field of biological research. Especially for synthetic biology, we are modifying life from nature through this. Although synthetic biology brings many benefits to our lives, as far as some people concerned, we are not god and we don’t have the rights to modify natural organisms. Apart from ethical issues, safety is another problem that the public is worrying about.

To clarify these issues and get synthetic biology known to general public, we organized a free debate concerning whether synthetic biology can really benefit our lives and whether we should keep developing this. We invited 20 young students from Jingling High School and we gave them some background about synthetic biology first. Then we divided them into 2 groups, one group supports the idea that synthetic biology does benefit our lives and we should develop this while another group is against this. In the first 2 minutes, one student from each group proposed the standpoint on behalf of the whole group. In the next 40 minutes, each group had 20 minutes to defend their own standpoint.

The debate was fierce and the students were actively involved in, putting forward many wonderful arguments. For example, the positive side said that synthetic biology is just like nuclear energy, though its misuse will cause damage, if we use it in a controllable way, we can definitely benefit from it just like we can use nuclear energy to generate electricity. Those against synthetic biology didn’t resign easily, saying that we are not god and we shouldn’t interfere with nature by genetically engineer the organisms. Moreover, some people might use the techniques developed by synthetic biology to create biological weapons such as super virus, which might pose danger to our lives. Through the 40 minutes’ debate, both sides realized some facts that they ignored before and had a new understanding about synthetic biology. To some extent, they reached a consensus that we should develop synthetic biology, but it should under intensive supervision of the government to avoid misuse.

By means of free debate, the students are not passively receiving the idea that synthetic biology is all good and beneficial. They are actively thinking themselves and come to a conclusion by their own. We believe that free debate is a good option for human practice and worth popularizing. Via free debate, the public can not only know that synthetic biology is beneficial, but also will they understand that why it is good and how should we use it.

Reach the unreached

Synthetic biology provides us a novel way to maximally engineer and re-design natural biological systems, thus increasing the well-being of humankind. iGEM, at the same time, is a great promotion of synthetic biology, as it enables students worldwide to share their ideas together. It also offers a platform for us to enjoy the intellectual pleasure of synthetic biology and inspire us to think and to design our systems. Since 2005, iGEM has attracted more and more young people to get involved in this great competition.

China, as well as other parts of the world, has played an active role in the progress of iGEM. Over the past few years, the number of Chinese teams started from a few to more than 50. However, there are still vast areas (altogether 17 provinces, half of all provinces in China) which iGEM hasn’t reached yet. This year, our team, NJU-China, contacted and visited the universities in these unreached provinces to promote and develop iGEM and synthetic biology and to clarify the ethical and safety issues concerning synthetic biology. We travelled 21171 km in total, more than half of the circumference of the earth. The cities and provinces we have reached include Xining (Qinhai), Hohhot (Inner Mongolia), Xian (Shanxi), Shijiazhuang (Hebei), Nanchang (Jiangxi), Changsha (Hunan Provinc), Changchun (Jilin), Dalian (Liaoning) and Kunming (Yunnan). We plan to reach the other eight provinces next year.

In the universities we visited, we organized seminars to promote iGEM and clarify the ethical and safety issues about synthetic biology. During each seminar, our team member first introduced iGEM and synthetic biology to the students. Then we discussed the ethical and the safety issues concerning synthetic biology. The students were actively involved in the seminar and expressed their strong interest in both synthetic biology and iGEM. Apart from that, during the discussion, the students put forward many wonderful arguments. Some of them were in favor of the synthetic biology and they believed that synthetic biology can benefit our lives in the field of food, energy, environment and medicine. However, some else were against it because they thought that we interfered natural world through synthetic biology. After the discussion of the ethical and safety issues, these young students had a new understanding of the synthetic biology.

Through our promotion in these provinces, the students in these provinces expressed their strong desire to participate in the iGEM next year. We believe that the young students in these previously unreached provinces will get actively involved in iGEM and become new members of the whole family of iGEM in the future.

Synthetic biology workshop

Young people are the future of the synthetic biology. To get more students motivated in this field, we organized a synthetic biology workshop for 20 students from Jinling High School.

It began at 9: 00 in the morning and our instructor, Prof. Chen Xi, gave a lecture about synthetic biology at the beginning of the workshop. He introduced those students with the idea about iGEM, and showed them how synthetic biology worked by using several interesting examples. He also encouraged them to participate in it themselves. At the end of his lecture, there was a Q&A part between him and the high school students and that was quite impressive. Though those students didn’t have much background about biology, they were quite innovative and put forward many novel ideas. For example, they were even thinking that maybe we can make crops movable to escape hazards by genetic modification. Through the lecture about synthetic biology, they are embraced by a whole new world.

Apart from learning in the classroom, we hope that the students can be more motivated by doing some lab work themselves. Synthetic biology is about genetic manipulation, so we decided to teach them some basic molecular biology experiments. The first step the students were taught was to extract DNA from Arabidopsis. It was the first time these high school students saw what DNA is like and they were very excited to get the DNA out from the organism. The next step was to PCR amplify two genes in the genome of Arabidopsis. After PCR amplification, the students were taught to load their PCR product into the agarose gel and ran it to see if they had done the second step successfully. When they saw the desired band appear in the gel, they were thrilled. From the lab work, they knew how to conduct basic biological experiment and had more concrete ideas about what synthetic biology was.

After the lecture and conducting experiments themselves, those high school students showed great interest in synthetic biology and strong desire to participate in the iGEM themselves.


Synthetic biology provides us a novel way to maximally engineer and redesign natural biological systems thus increase the wellbeing of us humankind. iGEM,at the same time, is a great promotion of synthetic biology for it enables students worldwide to share their ideas together. It also offers a platform for us to enjoy the intellectual pleasure of synthetic biology and inspire us to think, as well as to design our systems. To better understand synthetic biology and exchange our ideas with other brilliant iGEMers, our team, NJU-China, established collaboration with several other iGEM teams, including USTC, ZJU, and XMU.

Meet-up with USTC, ZJU, XMU
As tyros in iGEM, we turn to other teams for experience of synthetic biology and iGEM.
17th May, two of us, Gong Fei and Weng Mingxi, went to USTC. We meet USTC iGEMers in their lab and the captain of USTC, Zhang Sitao, generously shared their experience of iGEM with us. Later we talked about our projects for 2013 iGEM.

24th May, Gong Fei and Wei Xiuqing, Niu Yuchen, Dai Yimei went to visit ZJU iGEM team. We both presented our projects to each other. They were designing a detective system by using aptamer which our team member Gong Fei has experience in, so we exchanged some ideas and they also provide us with some advice on our project.

24th June, Gong Fei, Xiong Aoli, Chen Xi and Niu Yuchen from our team, met up with XMU iGEM team members in Xia Men University. After a brief introduction of the member composition of our teams, we both gave a presentation of our 2013 project. Their advisor Wu Xin has participated in the iGEM twice and he has a lot of experience, providing us plenty of valuable advice. We also talked about how to better promote iGEM and synthetic biology in our home universities.