Public Engagement

In harmony with the BioTROJAN conception of caring about a local issue (vector-borne diseases), one of our main human practices approach (see all our approaches on Human Practices - Overview) was based on to care about another serious brazilian issue: scarcity of quality materials for scientific and educational purpose in our language.

We brought to portuguese speaking community scientific and educational materials in which they can get interesting and confiable information, besides how they can improve such materials! For this purpose we translated BioMech, a high quality, iGEM developed, synbio game and we organized the first brazilian edit-a-thon for biology related subject.


BioMech is a board game that integrates concepts of molecular and cellular biology along with creativity to create solutions to as more diverse situations and all of it in a synthetic biology approach! The game was developed by the iGEM team of University of Exeter and presented on the last iGEM competition (2016). One of our current members was there and played the game, it was such a cool experience that he introduced us to the game this year. We loved BioMech as well so we asked to the Exter team it we could use it, and they agreed. So we translated the game from English to Brazilian Portuguese, version that can be accessed and downloaded here.

Essentially on BioMech the players are supposed to find a synthetic biology solution for a given situation. The situations they have to deal with go from light production to saving an entire city from hunger! They should use the cards they receive, which represent BioBricks, to design a plasmid that will be put into an E.coli in order to resolve the problem. To win the game player has to convince the opponent that his/her plasmid construction and solution are both terrific and going to work well.

We have seen how the BioMech was easily assimilated by people and useful in transmitting knowledge. The game was applied at the “Semana Temática da Biologia”, in english “Thematic Week of Biology” (TWB), an annual biology event that happens at Institute of Biosciences of University of São Paulo, where BioMech was played by college students (target audience of TWB).

Undergraduate students playing BioMech at TWB

The players just needed a little explanation of how the game works and then they got involved by the problem they have to solve. We were amazed with the constructions and proposals of solutions that the players found, some a little bit funny and some well elaborated but both well thought out and argued. And that is one of the characteristics of the the game, to arouse argumentation and defense of a viewpoint.

Just as we desired, BioMech showed to be a fun and simple way to learn about synthetic biology, and having this type of game available in our language is by itself a great achievement. Because we need new and stimulant ways of learning which are interesting to people, even more when talking about a subject that is unfamiliar to most people like Synthetic Biology is, and we are really proud of it.

Survey - evaluating the application of the game

Before each new player enjoyed the game and received the instructions of how to play it, we talked to them about BioTROJAN and the issue of mosquito-borne diseases. We think that to play BioMech and to know BioTROJAN concepts has the power of improve the players' knowledge of the topics covered. In order to verify the possible impact of BioMech on its players, we did a survey comparing two groups: BioMech Players (Group 1) and Non-BioMech Player (Group 2).

The survey (a version in english of it can be seen here) was applied to Group 1 after its played BioMech and to Group 2 without having played BioMech, all of the survey’s participants were life sciences undergraduate students from 18 to 24 years old. We only did the survey with N = 9 for both groups, the limiting factor was Group 1. With the support of Psychology Prof. Marcelo, from University of São Paulo, who advised us to do a survey with open-ended questions to measure the "word strength" looking for the words incidence, we did a survey in which the participants had to read a phrase or a topic (question) and answer in 15 seconds the first words that came in mind. We got interesting data:

Analysis and results

In the analysis of the data obtained, the "word strength" was measured by the incidence of word/term given as answer. Answer with a single occurrence in our data were disregarded, to avoid pollution of responses and to better provide the visualization and interpretation of generated graphs.

Insect-borne Disease

Comparison of word/term incidence in BioMech and Not BioMech players for the question: "Insect-borne Disease"

It is possible to see the contrast between the two groups. Looking at the words/terms that are shared between both groups, Group 1 in most cases has higher incidents of those. In addition, Group 1 shows up a higher number of terms that are given as sharing answers among the participants of the group itself than Group 2. This last one is a phenomenon also present in all next questions.

Prevention and control of insect-borne disease

Comparison of word/term incidence in BioMech and Not BioMech players for the question: "Prevention and control of insect-borne disease"

Here there are a balance between groups in relation to the incidence of those term that are shared between them (phenomenon present as well in the next question) and something interesting happened: Group 1 gave "Paratransgenisis" as an answer, which is the approach used on BioTROJAN to combat vector-borne diseases, that's an evidence showing that Group 1 was influenced in its answers.

Microorganisms and Bacteria

Comparison of word/term incidence in BioMech and Not BioMech players for the question: " Microorganisms and Bacteria"

Transgenics: benefits and dangers

Comparison of word/term incidence in BioMech and Not BioMech players for the question: "Transgenics: benefits and dangers"

In these two last questions there are two phenomenon already observed in previous questions: shared terms are balanced between groups and Group 1 presents more numbers of terms that are given as sharing answers among the participants of the group itself than Group 2.

Use of transgenics for the control of insect-borne diseases

GMO, Biosafety and Synthetic Biology

For these terms above the groups didn’t display an incidence term higher than two (2), thus the answers were so heterogeneous that their analysis and group comparison was not feasible.


Taking into account the results, in a first analysis we can be led to conclude that BioMech has an impact on the answers given, because the data displays that BioMech player group, in a considerable number of questions, got a higher numbers of terms that are given as sharing answers among the participants of the group itself than the Not BioMech players.

But maybe things are not so simple, we have to consider some other points: (i) as already stated above, before playing BioMech the participants had a little talk with us about BioTROJAN and its concepts. So probably, what the data shows us is the influence of both, BioMech and BioTROJAN talk - which is reinforced by the result of Question 2. (ii) the survey had low amostral number (N) and may it have caused a big bias in the results. We just applied effectively the game at TWB during 4 hours, in a further survey we most to expand our N to achieve greater power of completion. (iii) the target audience of TWB is mostly biologists and probably it inserts bias, since the questions asked are related to biological area, in this way, to overcome this the survey must be done with a wider audience. And finally, (iv) for some terms closer relate to molecular biology and Synbio - “Use of transgenics for the control of insect-borne diseases, GMO, Biosafety and Synthetic Biology” - Group 1 didn’t show a better performance than Group 2.

In conclusion, the survey may be showing us that the combination of BioMech plus BioTROJAN talk had some influence in the answers of Group 1, but because of the problems (ii) and (iii) pointed out we do not have enough confidence to affirm such a thing, even more so if we look at what happened in (iv). Unfortunately we don’t have time until the Wiki Freeze/Giant Jamboree, but we hope be able to redo the survey in order to corroborate what has been raised here or not and more, we would like to see the influence alone of BioMech and how it is going to be assimilated by others audiences.

Wikipedia edit-a-thon

Official poster of the event

Realizing that the openness of iGEM is in agreement with the principles of the Wikipedia, the world’s most used source of information, we organized the first brazilian edit-a-thon for biology related subject!

Even though Brazil has a number of great research labs and millions of university students, wikipedia articles in portuguese are of much lower quality than the ones in English. Moreover, people are not trained and empowered to change this and so to improve it with their own expertise. Thus providing and stepping stone for bringing people closer to the “Open Knowledge” world is also set to change the culture of the restricted academic knowledge in Brazil.

Teaming up with Wikipedia Brasil and the USP Synthetic Biology Club, we organized a pilot event, with team members, people from university laboratories, start-ups and even high school students. Even though few people participated, we managed to add more than 6000 new words to the wikipedia and, more importantly, introduced people to the world of open science!

Engagement of team and community to make knowledge available to all!

This official edit-a-thon, with support of the Brazilian Wikipedia, and it will be the basis for many more to come. The event was shared with people around Brazil and we got feedback from people from different cities and states that now want to organize and/or take part on further events, empowering people to produce good and open content. We are excited to see how, in the future years, this small initiative could empower people to make science more open,

Numbers of our edit-a-thon, got from our official wikipedia pageas of 31 of october of 2017, 11 days after the edit-a-thon