Team:Tartu TUIT/HP/Silver

To educate the general public on synthetic biology and our project idea we organized outreach events oriented towards different age groups. We talked during the annual Science camp held in Tartu, Researchers night in AHHAA (Science Centre) and during a three-day event called Tarkuse Nädal.
Our other main focus was on the ethical and practical problems concerning our ethylene production, therefore we contacted G.I. Dynamics, a bio-ethylene producer and Stephan Kabasci the head of Department Bio-based Plastics at the Fraunhofer Institute to ask them questions regarding our approach. We used the feedback to make our project better and to increase our understanding of the issues we might face.
During our outreach activity, we found out that our researched topic is not that well-known in Estonia, as most of the people did not have any idea about what we were trying to achieve with the production of ethylene or what synthetic biology was, but they were nonetheless very interested in our project.

Lecture during the science camp of the University of Tartu
On the 24.08 half of our team presented iGEM to approximately 50 pupils from primary, and secondary schools during the science camp of the University of Tartu. We explained what synthetic biology is and reasons why it is very important nowadays, introduced iGEM competition, and showed some of our favourite projects that had been done on iGEM and explained which fields an iGEM participant can perfect his or her skills in.

Workshops during the event of the Week of Wisdom in Tartu
From 28.08-30.08 we were attending an event in Tartu called Tarkusenädal (The Week of Wisdom) during which we were representing iGEM, our project and carrying out different experiments with the local people (both kids and adults) attending this event. One of the experiments was the extraction of the DNA from a kiwi and the kids loved it. Also, we extracted DNA from saliva, taught kids how to pipette and mix different substances and explained how biobricks work on the example of LEGO bricks.

Workshop and a lecture during the Researchers’ Night in Tartu
On the 29.09 we participated in one of the hugest scientific events in Estonia, the Researchers’ Night. The event is taking place annually at the Science Centre AHHAA and is very popular among kids, students and professors. However, as this particular event was 18+, the topic of our workshop was making DNA cocktails/shots. The experiment turned out to be quite popular among young people! Before a workshop, we had a short lecture about iGEM and our project.
Answer from G.I.Dynamics (summary):
1. The importance of ethylene and the future of green technologies in ethylene production. Ethylene is one of the most used building blocks in the industry and green technologies will definitely be the future for ethylene production.

2. The renewable approach in producing ethylene – advantages/disadvantages. They saw two main advantages: Oil and Gas are finite resources, biomass, on the other hand, is renewable. Secondly, the CO2-footprint is much lower in bio-based production, since the cracking step is abolished, but also due to the fact that the biomass needs CO2 to grow. They told us that they have seen several carbon-neutral and carbon-negative projects.

3. Opinion on our idea. They liked our idea since it is a complete bio-based approach and they expect that fewer utilities are needed than in the traditional route. Also, it was the first time they heard, about it.
Answer from Stephan Kabasci (summary):
1. Importance of Ethylene - it is by weight the most important chemical platform chemical.

2. Feedback to our idea. If our production is more environmentally friendly than other approaches then it could be an advantage. In case we start producing e.g. polyethylene produced from our ethylene then it could be a marketing advantage. At the same time, he was sceptical as our theoretical yield would be only around 31% and proposed the production of more oxidized platform chemicals like ethylene glycol.

3. He also gave us information on companies that try to make gaseous olefins from sucrose. We considered trying to make ethylene glycol, but as we didn’t have enough time we decided to continue to improve our approach.
This feedback motivated us, as our idea to find a solution to bio-based ethylene production is from a science and company point of view valid. Thanks to that we continued looking into using cellulose as a substrate and maybe using a three population approach for the ethylene production.
Ethylene Production – The Trends And The Impact
Ethylene is a versatile chemical compound used mostly for the production of plastic. Prognosis state that the production of ethylene is on the rise. At the same time other developments of bio-based ethylene production, other than from sugar cane in Brazil, have been slow, as the petrol-based ethylene production had a price drop due to the shale gas boom. But prognosis can’t foresee natural disasters - as a result of hurricane Harvey around 61% of the U.S. ethylene capacity has been closed. The most common production method of ethylene is hydrocarbon (most commonly naphtha) steam cracking. As naphtha is a non-renewable source, we need to find an environmentally friendly way of producing ethylene. Even though companies have started producing ethylene from ethanol, which in itself is a carbon-neutral process, its environmental impact is still similar to steam cracking. Our solution would, therefore, be more environmentally friendly.
During our brainstorming we did consider our environmental impact – even though our ethylene production would be environmentally friendly, we would still face the problem of the non-biodegradable plastic, which is left behind. Annually around 1 billion tons of waste are not recycled, mostly left in nature or illegal dumpsters. To counter this, there is a more or less annual garbage collecting event, which started in Estonia in 2008 - Let’s Do It. It has grown to a worldwide clean-up movement. Furthermore, in Estonia, we have a company - Plastrex, which does efficiently recycle plastic. Moreover, the new governmental waste management plan (for the years 2014-2020) focuses on the increase of recycling and reduction of disposable products like plates, bags and so on, as at the moment around 142 bags are used per person every year.


2. Kaskey, J., (1.09.2017) Harvey Has Made the World’s Most Important Chemical a Rare Commodity. (20.10.2017)

3. Ghanta, M., Fahey, D., Subramaniam, B. (2013). Environmental impacts of ethylene production from diverse feedstocks and energy sources (16.10.2017)

4. (16.10.2017)


6. Estonia's waste management plan. (16.10.2017)