Science is an international community, that knows no borders, politics or race. When one embarks on a scientific journey, fellow scientists from around the world are there to offer assistance, guidance and a different point of view, all in the name of scientific innovation. iGEM is no exception, placing great emphasis on the collaborative aspect of every team’s project.
Our first interaction was with the Peshawar team from Pakistan. We were especially excited about speaking to them, due to our respective countries not being in diplomatic relations with one another. We exchanged emails for a while, until we finally scheduled a skype session
In the course of the session we discussed our respective projects and needs for the competition. Our new friends helped us gain a new perspective regarding our Wiki design, and offered wisdom about how to tackle this facet of our project.
Next, we reached out to team Bristol. They graciously offered us a tool they had developed for writing Wiki code, which proved to be immensely helpful. Up to that point we encountered setbacks with our wiki design and this collaboration came at an auspicious time. Thanks to this act of professional courtesy, we were able to make significant process on our wiki page.
Unfortunately, we hit a roadblock early on with our wiki design and decided to outsource the process to an external web design company.
Furthermore, we learned from the Lahore team that, from the first days of the project, they had allocated each area of responsibility to a student from the appropriate study field. Following this, we decided that next year’s team should have a computer science student onboard for the purpose of Wiki design.
The jewel in our crown is our collaboration with the Technion team, on the esteemed topic of ethics. We sought to profoundly investigate the ethical side of our project, seeing as how it deals with sensitive subjects spanning genetic engineering and the human food industry. One of our main objectives was to create a product that promotes ecological and sustainable food production, the basis for which is clearly ethics. The Technion team compiled an ethics handbook, a succinct manifest spanning the world of ethics, covering subjects from the history of ethics to modern day implications. We read this text with guidance from Dr. Meshi Ori and were inspired to write our own ethical guidelines. The insight we gained by reading their ethical standpoint inspired us to view our research in a different light, emphasizing ethics as a major component of our project.
Then came the time for our teams to meet and discuss in person. The session began with each team introducing its members and project and this is where we discovered that our projects share an important characteristic - their modular nature. This refers to the respective projects’ design, as a basic concept that may be applicable in other various contexts. Dr.Meshi began the meeting with walking us through the multi-faceted world of ethics, from the very arcane to the mundane. By doing so, we created a common language with which to discuss the ethical perspectives of our corresponding projects. Dr. Meshi enlightened the Technion team that, with the great depth their booklet goes into, it lacks a practical approach. Talking about ethics is a venerable pursuit, but in order to make our world a better place, we need to implement ethics in our daily reality.
Our benefit from this collaboration was the inspiration we gleaned from their book, which allowed us to draft our own take on ethics in general and how it pertains to our project. Thinking about our project with this newfound perspective, we reevaluated our role in the education for responsible alcohol consumption.
Dr.Ayelet Shavit then led a dialogue meant to challenge our perception of lab work, urging us to question all that we take for granted in terms of what we do every single day in the lab. The subject of this dialogue was the connection between science and morals, a cornerstone of this connection being objectivity - how can we assess the morality of what we do if don’t view it without preconceived notions? What is the role played by politics and money, within the scientific community and how does it affect the nature of the scientific work?
Rami, our Muslim team member, had a worthwhile perspecive to add to the discussion. As a practicing and devout Muslim he isn’t allowed to drink wine, nor does he wish to, seeing as how it’s not a part of his culture whatsoever. But when the time came to choose an idea for the iGEM project, he was the first to vote for our current idea. He realized that as a scientist he is duty bound to always ask questions regarding the nature and ramifications of his work, especially from an ethical standpoint.
Thanks to these various collaborations, our project grew in depth and scope, putting the importance of relationships at the forefront. Every person we encountered in the course of this project added value to our goals and helped us reexamine our objectives as a team, as scientists and as members of the international community.