We have organized many different forms of human practice surrounding our project’s main goal: create genetically modified (GM) probiotics. From our visitation to Yili (the largest Diary enterprise in China) and our questionnaire posted, we learned general public’s attitudes toward GM food and the necessity of promoting biotechnology to them. So we reached out in many different ways. We held a street science exhibition, established a synthetic biology club, and collaborated with school medias including Student Television Station and our school magazine, which made abstract biology concepts more relatable. The responses we got from Yili also reminded us about the issues involving antibiotic marks we used in colony selection in lab, helping us to see the future of our project: add our target genes into the chromosome. Without having an integrated human practice, we would not be able to make our project accepted by the general public nor the government.
Poll: people’s attitude on Genetically Modified (GM) food
We posted a questionnaire on social media to investigate people’s attitudes toward GM food and how they get the information about GM products.
Fig. 1 People’s attitude towards GM food
Fig. 2 Source Reliability
The results indicate only 8.2% of people acquire their knowledge of GMO from very credible sources, suggesting to us that it is necessary to further promote the concept of synthetic biology and GM products.
Yili, Diary Enterprise
We visited Yili dairy enterprise, one of the biggest diary companies in China, to learn about the openness of the government’s attitude towards GM food, especially GM probiotics. The Yili representative, however, suggests the government currently has an unfriendly policy towards GM probiotics. This response demonstrates the importance of further promoting GM probiotics.
School Student Television Station
In order to introduce iGEM and GM food to more students in our school, we collaborated with Student Television Station (STS), the most influential and dependable news media of our high school. We incorporated interviews on the subject of GM food with teachers and students, the general public’s attitude toward GM food, a brief introduction of iGEM and our team by Zhongxiu Hu, and a short segment about biology experiments in the video.
Check the video out!
We found that our high school’s students share the same opinion about GM food as the general public. There is a basic lack of information about the mechanisms of GM food production and function, which leads to misunderstanding about the subject. After seeing the importance of promoting GM food, we collaborated with the school magazine Imaginist.
School magazine - Imaginist
We reached out to Imaginist, our school magazine, to discuss the legitimacy of GM food. In the October issue of the magazine, we presented a positive but objective opinion towards GM food. We argued that for different cases, where different GM food is designed according to various types of mechanisms, some mechanisms are rational and may lead to a reliable improvement of the product. At the same time, some GM food may result from random mutations. We need to examine GM food carefully before it appears in supermarkets, but advantages of GM food should also be acknowledged properly.
Joining clubs and student organizations provides students the opportunity to work with their peers, explore complex issues not encountered in the classroom, and to be part of something larger than the seats they occupy in the classrooms. We established iGEM club within our school in order to spread knowledge of genetic technology. We have organized two activities this year: knowledge lecturing and experimentation.
Many members of our club are unaware of basic molecular biology concepts such as applications associated with DNA, ribosomes, and the basic principle of the central dogma of biology. Therefore, we offered three lectures to provide a brief view of biology at the molecular level.
In the first session, we introduced the concept of synthetic biology. Beginning with the cell theory of Leeuwenhoek, we showed how human interpretation of living organisms changed and how we use biochemistry as a tool to understand organisms at a molecular level. We also incorporated the core concepts of bioengineering: modularization and standardization.
In our second and third meetings, our lecturers showed the whole process of a typical genetic engineering experiment, from obtaining the genetic sequences, to cloning: building vectors, transformation, and finally identification. We wanted our club members to know how the common technology is used in genetic technology, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), aids in understanding the purpose of our machine and its abundant usefulness. Since these concepts are abstract, we presented them through text, pictures, and videos. After each lecture, we provided a Q&A section, helping club members better understand these concepts.
After our club members had enough background knowledge, we arranged lab courses in both our high school and Peking University for them to practice basic experiments.
The establishment of the iGEM club enables us to learn about synthetic biology in a constructive and supportive environment. Moreover, we were also impressed by questions asked by our team members, since these questions demonstrate not only understanding, but also application of knowledge. These questions forced us to review the mechanisms of molecular biology in more depth. And when teaching our club members about experimenting, we learned through their mistakes, often points that we forgot to point out, which strengthen our experimentation skills.
In order to spread the idea of synthetic biology and genetic engineering, we held a street science exhibition at school during lunchtime on October 19th. We performed the DNA extraction from fruits with two steps: polarizing and extracting. Strawberries, salts, and detergents were prepared for the exhibition as raw materials of the experiment. In the first step, we mixed salts, ground strawberry jam, detergents, and water to differentiate nonpolar substance from cells. We put the mixture in water bath 60° Celsius, for 15 minutes to speed up the reaction. Then we put the final DNA solution into a beaker and poured the same amount of alcohol into the beaker. Feather-like substance sank down to the bottom of the beaker in a process known as ethanol precipitation.