The HP Silver criteria addressed ethics, sustainability, social justice, safety, security, and intellectual property rights issues in the context of your project. Your activity could center around education, public engagement, public policy issues, public perception, or other activities.
Implementing the RED Framework
At this stage, it’s important to assess the most pressing needs of the team. Consider at which stage of the ideation phase your team is currently in. Because the emphasis is on depth, decide if what you are doing helps further develop your project. Although it is important to confirm your team’s thought process by talking to experts in the field, reiterating the same point defeats the overall purpose of human practices.
It’s important to ask yourselves the following questions:
- What sort of information or clarification are you looking for?
- Why are you looking for this information? Is it based on prior discussions with outside sources and your teammates?
- Who will you go to for this information? What are their qualifications?
- What dimension of the project are you considering? Why?
After determining a suitable individual for contact, brainstorm a number of ways to effectively communicate with him/her. Many of the research scientists may not be available for a face-to-face conversation, so designing effective questionnaires and other modes of communication can prove to be quite useful.
What form of communication is going to enhance the information the most?
The key to a thorough exploration of the question at hand is giving the contact ample amount of time to prepare, asking specific pointed questions that really help you get information applicable to your project, and most importantly, enjoying the process. It’s not every day that you get to interview a leading expert in their field, and at the core, all scientists are just humans so being able to carry a conversation while keeping the big picture in mind can really help this phase run smoothly.
This is arguably the most important phase of the RED framework because it helps you document exactly how your project has evolved. Be able to justify the direction that your project took based on a number of factors, including available materials and data as well as having an appropriate scope for your project’s implementation. The key is showing you took the information from the interview or consultation, and how you used that to improve your own project.
Showing the reaction can entail a number of things, whether it be revising some part of your protocol, modifying the scope of your project, or simply confirming something that your team had previously been thinking of.
Another key component is how you present this information in an effective manner. Using tables and graphics would help us reach both a technical and a non-technical audience, so we tried to succinctly summarize as many of the points in our integrated practices as possible. When we were unable to do so, we tried to segment the information and control its flow so that it would be easily digestible to the reader through numbering or bullet points.
Key Outcomes of the RED Framework
As a team, we realized that the application of SynEco was far beyond the scope of a single field. In fact, the integration of perspectives from material scientists, microbiologists, and even non-scientists really helped us create a cohesive consolidation of the work that we are about to present. However, it is important to note that the RED Framework is really a general philosophy that can be applied to any component of an iGEM project, in some format or capacity. In fact, we hope that future teams will elaborate on the RED Framework as a way to compose and organize their thoughts.
Visual Representation of Our Overall Work
We felt that it was extremely important that we apply RED to not only each individual component of the Human Practices portion of our project, but also to it as a whole. Our last consultation really helped us open our eyes to the power of visual storytelling, and its necessity to reach a variety of audiences. One of the cornerstones of Human Practices is contextualizing what the team has done, placing it in a broader context and showing the clear evolution of how our project changed throughout its lifecycle.
We decided that a timeline would be an extremely helpful visual tool because it employs all the components that help enhance the information we are representing. We also thought that using a timeline would clearly demonstrate the progression of our ideas from one stage to the next, and thus our Integrated Human Practices page uses a timeline to convey our information.
Discussion about Patents and Intellectual Property Provisions
One of the central aspects of our project was the implementation of the ROBUST Technology, which was developed by Dr. Joe Shaw and the Stephanopoulos Lab (check our Integrated Human Practices to see how our interactions with them shaped our protocol). However, we also wanted to use it in our own system and were curious to know what ramifications that would have on our overall project. Therefore, we decided to contact Dr. Mun Su Rhee from Xyscope about intellectual property provisions, and how we could proceed without worries of legal penalty.
Dr. Rhee was very impressed with the overall approach of our project, but he cautioned us regarding the legalities of scientific research. He told us that when individuals or groups file for patents, there is often a requirement to cite existing patents that served as inspiration. Because we were trying to commercialize the ROBUST system, we would simply have to list the ROBUST patent (although the original researchers haven’t gotten an approved patent). He also taught us that key to protecting your intellectual property was clear and proper documentation in case a dispute arose . He also talked about the three parts to getting a patent in synthetic biology related fields, namely novelty, inventive step, and industrial application .
After our talk with Dr. Rhee, it become more clear to us that we should not have much difficulty in securing a patent as long as we gave proper attribution, and it built upon the existing ROBUST system. Although there are a number of xenobiotics-based patents, altering the ROBUST protocol to use unconventional carbon sources rather than unconventional nitrogen and phosphorus sources constituted an inventive step, and our commercialization of the system for our startup (see the Entrepreneurship section of our page) would help us get the patent at the right time. In addition, we also discussed these sort of intricacies at the SDA high school presentation because we thought that it would be helpful for the students to really grasp the impact of what they were trying to accomplish in iGEM and in synthetic biology as a whole.
Discussion about Sustainable Design
Towards the end of our wet-lab work, we also began to think about the importance of crafting a product that could be industrially relevant. Specifically, we wanted to find more criteria and requirements for a system to be useful in bioprocessing; after our interview with Brandon Cardwell at the iGATE Innovation Hub in Northern California, we wanted to know more about the importance of a product lifecycle and strategies to ensure that we could maximize the lifecycle of our bioproduction platform. To achieve this goal, we talked to a team of scientists at Abreos Biosciences, a company that is also in biological manufacturing.
During our conversation, it became apparent that one of the biggest challenges in bioprocessing is the lack of change. It seemed as if most major companies are using outdated systems that have severe design flaws, but because of the capital needed for new facilities, many companies opt for slower and less efficient means of production. Thus, sustainable design became a key part of our discussion.
Fortuitously, one of the scientists had experience with materials science and bioreactor design. He gave us several things to think about: as we found out, both upstream and downstream processing are severe cost factors. He suggested upstream processing is relatively difficult to fix without actual experimental data that we could get ourselves, but that downstream processing was a more pressing issue. The challenge was to figure out a way to combine the two systems together in such a way that they could both last as long as possible . The last pieces of advice that the team gave us were to consider small innovations in existing design approaches and use that to bring down costs even further, which was the ultimate goal. The other point was that we needed to consider different bioreactor designs and pick the one that was the most suitable for our overall goals.
Although we expand on this section through our Applied Design portion of the project, we came to several key realizations as a team. Firstly, we decided that although upstream processing was difficult to completely improve, we wanted to be as thorough as possible given the extent of our resources. Because we did not have our personal experimental data on different cultures and growth rates, we decided that a combination of literature research and Design of Experiments modelling approach could help us scale up our technology.
In addition, we decided that one way to ensure that our system and technology itself would be durable would be to opt for a trend in bio-manufacturing called single-use disposables . Because we wanted this to be a bio-production platform for a number of different substances, including biofuels and chemicals and possibly, even antibodies, it made sense to have a more flexible approach and single use biologics gave us a modular approach to improve our overall design.
Impacting Public Policy with Verde Lux
One of the key points of Human Practices is to demonstrate how our team has taken public policy into account. Up to this point, we had mainly focused on the wet-lab portion of our work and started thinking about upscaling processes such as benchtop bioreactors and other small-scale attempts. However, we realized that we were missing a key part of the initial biofuels push: regional nonprofits and government entities that could assist us in our mission. Thus, we decided to consult the on-campus incubator The Basement @ UCSD because it has strong regional connections and plays a large role in encouraging public innovation.
In our discussion, we learned that one of the keys to enacting public change was establishing contact with local government officials and programs that have similar goals. However, the biggest reason that public innovation was so difficult was because of lack of awareness by many people. Thus, the first step would be educate and inform the community, make them care about the cause as much as we did, and then we would have an easier time getting like-minded individuals to come work with us to tackle this problem. We also learned that it was easier to enact change with people our own age rather than older adults because our plight was more relatable for them.
Our discussion with the Basement was quite helpful, and it actually helped guide us in our Public Engagement activity. We wanted to encourage a discussion about biofuels and green policy initiatives, and how those in the San Diego community could actually make a difference. We decided that targeting high school students would be the most effective. In terms of choosing a medium for the activity, we settled on Model UN because it simultaneously allowed us to educate the students about the science of our project while allowing for big-picture innovation, eventually leading to a resolution at our mock Energy Summit and the founding of our non-profit Verde Lux (check the Entrepreneur section for more details).