For our public outreach, we first wanted to understand the public’s opinion on the use of genetically modifying plants to produce medicines. We initially created a survey to learn whether the public approved of the use of plants, bacteria and animals to produce medicines, and how the approval changed when the medicines were produced by genetic modification. We were very pleased by the 275 responses we obtained.
As well as our survey, we also were interested in speaking to the public and engaging with them face to face to find out their views. We also saw iGEM as a way to teach the public, mostly children and teenagers, more about genetics, and the future of genetic modification.
Fascination of Plant Science Day: 20/5/2017
Our iGEM team went to Dyffryn Gardens National Trust outside of Cardiff for the Fascination of Plant Science Day, along with some other plant scientists from Cardiff University. In hopes to encourage people, especially children to have an interest in plant science, by teaching them more about plants than what is on the curriculum. We set up a stand on how to extract DNA from strawberries to learn about DNA and genetics.
As well as bringing along some of our tobacco plants to demonstrate how we infiltrate plants with DNA to genetically modify the plant, although we were using water and food colouring instead of agrobacterium. We had a lot of interest in these stalls, with some of the children infiltrating the plants better than the iGEM team members!
While we were there, as it was not only Fascination of Plants Day, it was also Orchid Day at Dyffryn Gardens; we were also able to talk to some of the other visitors about their views on genetic modification of plants to produce medicines, with most of them having a positive response to the use of GM. We explained how plants have recently been used to produce vaccines, like with the Ebola and Zika virus, which the public agreed was important and worth the use of genetic modification.
Cardiff University Open Days: 16/9/17 and 21/10/17
Cardiff iGEM helped out at the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University open day. We showed prospective students around the lab we were using, demonstrated how we infiltrated plants to genetically modify them, and talked to them about the applications of GM and synthetic biology. Synthetic biology, as it is relatively new and growing field, is often not covered in high school biology. We wanted to teach the sixth form students how plants can be used for genetic engineering, especially how plants can be used to make pharmaceuticals. We worked alongside Jamie, one of our iGEM supervisors, who was demonstrating the use of Luciferase, which we have been using as part of our lab project.
Biology and Geology Rocks!: 7/10/17
National Museum Cardiff, alongside Cardiff University, ran an event for children and families to teach children about biology and geology. There were 3680 visitors at this free event, mostly children, and we were very happy about the interest in our stall where we were extracting DNA from strawberries. Our stall was so popular that we actually ran out of strawberries before the end of the event! The event was aimed at fairly young children, who had not yet been taught science and what DNA was, we therefore, had to explain to them what cells were, and that they were made up of cells that contained DNA that made them who they are.
UK iGEM Meetup
After a week of preparation, we set off for London. The first part of the meet-up was held at the University of Westminster, where a series of guest speakers, lots of free Pizza and poster presentations were set in place for us. Dr Vitor Pinheiro, a guest speaker from UCL, gave a lecture discussing the risks associated with synthetic biology. Dr Stefanie Frank, a researcher from UCL, also gave a fascinating lecture of her current research in synthetic biology. This was a great opportunity to hear about current research outside of iGEM.
After lunch, research posters from the UK teams were displayed across the conference room. This was the perfect opportunity to learn about the other team’s projects and was an opportunity to get to know our fellow UK iGEMers. It was great to see such a diverse range of projects, with BenthBioFactory being the only team using plants. We rounded off the day at the iGEM social, where we had dinner with the Manchester, Sheffield and York iGEM teams.
UCL were our hosts for the Saturday morning. The main aim of this session was to debate the fundamental issues surrounding synthetic biology. This was an extremely interesting session as it made us question and discuss the ethical issues associated with synthetic biology. The topics for the debates included: Is using synthetic biology to make therapeutics such as insulin necessary if the current method is already so well established?
> Should humans have the right to create synthetic life on other planets?
> Should there be a limit to what we should be allowed to genetically engineer?
> Should GM organs be an available treatment?
> Should we merge biology and AI? Should there be a boundary between the artificial and the natural world?
> Should all scientific findings/discoveries be made public?
After lunch, we headed off to the Warwick Business School in the Shard for the presentations. After a quick photo shoot looking over the view of the Thames and London, we presented our project and heard presentations from the other teams, where we further learnt about their projects.
This afternoon was one of the highlights of the trip, with an amazing experience and view at the Shard, as well as learning more about the what the other teams were working on, as there was such a range of projects and ideas.
Thanks to University of Westminster, UCL and University of Warwick for such a memorable weekend!