UNL 2017

Helping reduce methane emissions from livestock

Human Practices

Integrated in the Industry:

Our team worked very hard to meet and work with professors and companies in the agriculture industry to improve our project and learn how it would be most effectively used and implemented in the future. Please check out our Integrated Human Practices page to learn more about our meetings with Dr. Fernando, UNL's Animal Science Department, and businesses around Lincoln.

Safety Cases:

As you will see later on this page, safety was the biggest concern of the public when we introduced them to our project. That is why we worked on developing a Safety Case for our project. Safety Cases are an upcoming way to ensure a well-rounded project that takes every safety concern into account. To see our team's Safety Case and how you can develop your own Safety Case, visit our Safety page.


Due to the stigma surrounding GMOs and the nature of our research, we decided to create a survey through google to understand peoples’ opinion on the issue and on our proposed solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our survey was offered to the families attending Morrill Hall’s free admission nights, other iGEM teams, followers of our social media accounts, and to the UNL Biochemistry Club. The survey was first opened on July 1st and was finally closed on September 26th. Our team received over 600 responses with about a 1/3 coming from other iGEMers.

Looking over the data, our team was happy to find that only 3.7% (23) of the responders rejected global warming, while 85.9% (530) of the responders believed global warming is an urgent issue [Chart 1] . Other values we found interesting were that 63.7% (394) of responders knew animals/livestock contributed to global warming [Chart 2] and 85.4% (527) of responders knew methane was considered a greenhouse gas [Chart 3] . The last set of values to be highlighted comes from our most important question: “Under what circumstances would you eat meat from a cow that has genetically modified bacteria in its stomach? Check all that apply”. 74.9% (463) of responders said they would be willing to eat beef that once had genetically modified bacteria in its stomach if “scientists proved it was safe and that the bacteria wouldn’t affect the meat” and only 11.3% (70) of responders said they would never eat the said meat [Chart 4].

[Chart 1]

[Chart 2]

[Chart 3]

[Chart 4]

The Statistical Help Desk provided by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln assisted our team in statistically analyzing a couple of our questions: “What is your opinion on global warming?” and “Under what circumstances would you eat meat from a cow that has genetically modified bacteria in its stomach? Check all that apply”. We searched for statistical differences in the responses based on age, education, and grouping.

The age category was divided into: elementary, middle, high school, 18-29, 30-39, 40-49, and 50 & over. The education category was divided into: high school or under, seeking Undergraduate, Bachelor’s, and Master’s or higher. The grouping category was divided into: Biochemistry Club, iGEM, Public older than 17, Public younger than 18. The responders from Morrill Hall and our social media accounts will count as the public.

The tables below include the calculated p-values for each category evaluated. Values ≤ 0.05 indicate a significant relationship between the responders’ category and their given answers. A discussion of the highlights for each table is offered below the respective caption. Majority of the p-values were calculated using the Chi-Square Test; values denoted with an asterisk were calculated using the Monte Carlo Exact Test.

Table 1

P-values from “What is your opinion on global warming?”

There is a significant association between someone’s age and their response. For example, 15.6% of the responders over 50 said global warming doesn’t exist. The closest number, 9.6%, came from responders between the ages 30-39. Responders between the ages 40-49 and responders in middle school were the most likely to say the problem doesn’t affect them, 20.5% and 29.4% respectively.

There is a significant association between someone’s education and their response. For example, 13.3% of responders in high school or under said they did not know what global warming is; other education categories rarely chose this response. Responders with a Bachelor’s or in high school or under were more likely to say global warming does not affect them, both sitting around 11%. Responders with a Master’s/plus or seeking an Undergraduate were less likely to say it does not affect them, at 6% each. Interestingly, there was not a large difference between education categories and the “it doesn’t exist” response.

There is a significant association between someone’s grouping and their response. For example, the Biochemistry Club had 13.7% of its responders say that global warming doesn’t affect them. In comparison, the iGEM group only had 2.9% of its responders say the same thing. The public was the most likely to say that global warming doesn’t exist, at 6%. The iGEM group had 94.7% of its responders say global warming is an urgent issue. This was the most frequent response for any category.

Table 2:

P-values from “Under what circumstances would you eat meat from
a cow that has genetically modified bacteria
in its stomach? Check all that apply”

Eight response choices were offered for this survey question and the responders could select multiple answers. Due to the amount of different answers and combinations, the answers were analyzed separately from one another and only answers 1, 3, 4, & 5 will be briefly discussed. Note, significant p-values indicate there was an association between the responder’s category (i.e. education) and their response. The p-value does not guarantee large response variation within a category.

In the age category, responders in elementary school and responders between 40-49 were most likely to say they would not eat the meat from a cow that has genetically modified bacteria in its stomach under any circumstances, 44% and 33% respectively. Responders from middle school to age 39 were relatively likely, averaging 47.5%, to answer they would eat the meat if an issue like global warming could be stopped through this change in diet. Responders from high school and middle school were likely to say they would eat the meat if the government said it was safe, 45.7% and 47% respectively. In contrast, responders from elementary school and between the ages 40-49 were not likely to choose government approval as a reason, 11% and 18% respectively. Most ages were willing to eat the meat if scientists proved it was safe and that the bacteria wouldn’t affect it. The lowest frequencies came from the elementary, middle school, and ages 40-49: 38.9%, 58.8%, and 61.5% respectively.

In the education category, responders seeking an Undergraduate degree were the least likely to say never to eating meat from a cow that has genetically modified bacteria in its stomach, at 6.4%. Responders with a Bachelor’s or seeking an Undergraduate degree were more likely to eat the meat if an issue like global warming could be stopped through this change in diet, with 44.3% and 48.4% respectively. Responders seeking an Undergraduate were more likely, 55.6%, to eat the meat if their government said it was safe; other groups had values around 10% and 20%. Majority of responders said they would eat the meat is scientists proved it was safe. Responders in high school or under were the least likely, at 60%, to choose this option.

In the grouping category, 15% of public responders said they would never eat the meat with genetically modified bacteria. The Biochemistry Club was the least likely to have that response, only having 2% choosing to never eat it. Public responders were the least likely, 35.6%, to say they would change their diet to the different meat to reduce global warming. In contrast, iGEM responders were the most willing to do so, with 52%. Concerning government approval, iGEM and young public responders were more likely to say this would be a circumstance to eat the meat, at about 42% each, versus Biochem and public responders’ 31% frequency. The group category responses for eating the meat under the circumstance that scientists proved it was safe fits the same trend as the other two categories. The public and young public responders had a frequency of 70.6% and 66.7%, respectively, for choosing this option. The Biochem and iGEM groups had a frequency of 82.7% and 81%.

The results from the statistical analysis gave a better understanding of what obstacles the full scope of the project may face when presented to a general audience. The survey offers more data than what was discussed, such as the free response section. Our team can further reflect on the responses from the survey, as we want to acknowledge opposing views and mitigate unwarranted fear from the public.

Museum Nights:

One of the main channels through which we reached out to the community was volunteering at Morrill Hall, the University of Nebraska’s State Museum. Over the course of the summer, we participated a total of five times. In early June, we set up a table to talk about biology. Additionally, we set up an experiment called “See DNA”, a “Building with Biology” event. (Experiment Details) When the kids came to our station, we asked them if they knew what DNA was and then simply illustrated the procedure of extracting DNA from a wheat germ: using detergent to break down the cell wall, and using alcohol to separate the DNA from the rest of the solution. The younger ones enjoyed the hands on experience and the older ones who came had a passion for science and appreciated learning new facts. Alongside the DNA experiment, we presented four petri dishes of E. coli with the red and green fluorescent protein since its fluorescence drew in crowds of visitors. We gave a little talk explaining that E. coli had a different and new gene that caused it to glow. Then finally at the end of our table, we displayed a video about what synthetic biology is and how E. coli would be utilized for our project. If the kids couldn’t read the words on the presentation, one of the members would help clarify into simpler terms. This event was our first public appearance and the participants were younger, so conversations were more gravitated towards the topic of biology and less around synthetic biology. As a parting gift, we provided each museum visitor with their own vial of DNA.

For July, we volunteered every Thursday from 6 to 8pm because admission was free and the number of attendees would max out. At these sessions, we tweaked our station and its focus. Beforehand, we created a trifold poster about the greenhouse effect. In the middle, we had diagrams explaining what the greenhouse effect is and what kind of things contribute to it. On one side we had some true and false questions, and on the other side we included images detailing the main steps of our project. For a kid’s station, coloring sheets were created with images such as the Earth or cows and tips on how one can reduce one’s environmental footprint, for example, walking more instead of driving. The demonstration showcased two jars where one jar contained just air and the other contained both CO2 (from added dry ice) and air. Two thermometers were placed in front of the jars and by the greenhouse effect, the jar containing CO2 had a temperature which surpassed the temperature of the other jar. Finally, two computers were set up with the survey we created to acquire more responses. All of that provided the basis for the booth that we set up each week. When visitors approached our table, we first introduced them to the greenhouse effect (global warming is too politically controversial) and see how much they knew. Most had heard of the term but less knew the scientific reasoning behind the effect. In order to demonstrate the greenhouse effect, we directed them to the jars to show how much hotter the jar containing CO2 was while explaining that CO2 and other greenhouse gases absorb heat more than air, causing the temperature to rise.

Hello UNL iGEM Team,

Thank you so much for volunteering at the museum throughout the month of July. We saw record breaking crowds on our free Thursday nights last month and were so pleased to be able to have your group interacting with the public and explaining your research. For your records here are the attendance totals from the event:

  • July 6th: 1,633
  • July 13th: 1,173
  • July 20th: 872
  • July 27th: 1,158

Best wishes on your project!

Returning back to our project, we introduced the team, and since iGEM is still a rising competition, we helped spread the word to undergraduate aged attendees about what iGEM is. When our discussion reached the point regarding our idea of introducing genetically engineered E. coli into a cow, then came the conflicting views. While some were extremely fascinated by our project because of our relatively new approach of tackling the climate change issue and even took a picture of our board, others were more skeptical. Some of the immediate concerns included fear about the strain of E. coli we were using and so we explained that we were using a non harmful strain of E. coli that is already present in the intestines of people and animals. Additionally, we talked about GMOs and their benefits to society to enlighten those who had concerns or were uneducated about the field of synthetic biology. We appreciated all their responses and feedback since the community’s opinions and views are very important to us. Above is the content of an email sent to us from the museum's volunteer director, Sarah Feit.


Knowing that the public had serious ethical concerns regarding GMOs, we decided to consult one of UNL’s professors who is knowledgeable in this topic. We contacted Professor Stephen Baenziger, whose area of focus is small grains breeding and genetics. Although he doesn’t deal with animals specifically, he still provided valuable insight for our project. After we introduced him to our project, we asked him three main questions: “What are some of the common ethical arguments against GMOs?”, “What could persuade the public’s opinion in favor of GMOs?”, “How can we integrate that into the way we approach introducing and discussing our project?” and discussed other issues as well. One of his first concerns with our project was the possibility of gene transfer. He suggested we continue with our project but to also find another strain of bacteria where the risk of gene transfer is lower. Using another organism would also ease people’s concerns because of the stigma surrounding E. coli. If there is still a fear of the risks that accompany our project, he told us to think of a quote from Voltaire: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”, meaning any risk that comes from our technology will always be less than the environmental risks of letting methane continually be released into the atmosphere. When we asked how to approach such issues, he suggested that first we attempt to answer all possible questions that could be asked to us beforehand so the public knows the team has thought about the problems. Then when presenting our project, we need to emphasize the tradeoffs and emphasize the term probiotic or medicine because they are more favorable words used already for other GMOs. For example, insulin was created through genetic engineering however there have been no complaints because of its obvious benefits and it isn’t called a GMO. On a different note, he was also concerned about the misapplications of our technology. For instance, drugs that have been banned due to non approved uses. Our technology could also be used incorrectly and so we have to consider potential regulations or restrictions that need to be placed.

Social Media

Online learning has become exponentially more important in the decade. It was important to our team to engage in this type of platform with technology moving rather quickly. By designing a Facebook page of our team, we not only could inform the public on Synthetic Biology but it made collaborating with teams much easier. Every week we would post a couple of articles from credible sources that pertained to Synthetic Biology, our methane reduction research specifically, and everything in between. We were able to record the amount of hits we received from each posting and how many interactions total we received. For fun, we would even post fun memes or pictures to keep those who liked and were suggested to like our page entertained and further engaged. By providing these strategies, we were able to educate the public on the purpose and importance of Synthetic Biology.

Additionally, making this Facebook page enabled us to communicate with other iGEM teams more easily than other platforms. Although we utilized our twitter to have short chats (less than 140 characters) and post pictures when we received our supplies, it wasn’t the best resource to actually coordinate logistics and collaboration with other teams. On Facebook we were actually able to display to other teams our research process and timeline in a lot easier and a better-understood format. Moreover, others team and the general public more easily understood the purpose of our research and Synthetic Biology all together.

Intellectual Property

We were able to get into contact with a patent lawyer who works at UNL. Last year, the 2016 UNL iGEM Team also held a patent meeting, but after submitting their patent request, UNL patent services denied their request. From our meetings with the Animal Science Department, it was apparent that our project was more marketable than the 2016 team’s project, so we met with Arpi Siyahian, a patent representative with NUtech Ventures, UNL’s patent services. On August 1, she kindly volunteered her time to talk with us about the patenting process, intellectual property, and what our future holds in terms of patents.

She had some interesting things to say about what makes a patent valid, how research patents under companies and universities like UNL work. She told us that while everyone involved with the project should be included on the patent, only the people who made a significant contribution to the project’s ideas and progress should be cited as “inventors”. Otherwise, the patent could be found invalid, and the money that had been made from the patent would have to be forfeited. In addition, the “inventors” on a patent obtained through UNL patent services would be given a combined 20% of the total revenue made as a result of the patent.

The process of obtaining a patent was also discussed that morning. Arpi told us that first we should apply through the NUtech Ventures for a patent. After we submit the application, patent experts will do a thorough investigation into whether the idea is “novel” (it has not been introduced by any other party) and determine whether it is profitable enough to warrant the university pursuing the patent and paying the necessary fees. If UNL decides to not pursue our patent, then we cannot apply for a patent on our own because all of the ideas and research are owned by UNL as all work was done on their property. Due to the timing of our project and iGEM’s Jamboree, she told us we should apply for a provisional patent, a legal document claiming the idea for 2 years so that further research can be done without actually paying for a full patent.

Meeting with Arpi Siyahian was an interesting look at how the patent process works at UNL and for full time researchers and professors. Her ending remarks to us included that we should likely characterize our parts more intensively before applying for the actual patent.

UCARE Poster and

UNL Chemistry Department

Research Presentations

On August 11, 2017, our team presented our research results at that time at both the UCARE Poster Presentation and the UNL Chemistry Department’s summer research presentation. Our poster, shown in the included picture, explained our project’s concept and also discussed what iGEM was. We received some nice feedback from the Lincoln community and beyond at these events and also spread the word about Synthetic Biology and iGEM.

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