<!DOCTYPE html> Human Practices
Human Practice is an important part of iGEM since it’s about visually bringing the projects outside the lab and thereby putting them in context with society and real world problems. Integration between science and the public is key for any development.
Since our team holds a special interest in ethics, we chose that as a core of our Human Practice work. We started by doing a market analysis to see the potential of our project in this area. Next, an ethics package was constructed by discussing ethical issues of our project with experts, talking to the iGEM community in webinars and by reaching out to the general public in a panel discussion and by having lectures. Out of these parts we compiled ethical guidelines for iGEM teams. Other than this our team has participated in different events to reach out to a lot of people with different backgrounds and talk about our project. These events are: OpenHack in Uppsala, Nordic iGEM Conference in Copenhagen and Global Community Bio Summit in Boston. Our team also had the chance to engage with exchange students from universities in China.
We wanted to produce compounds on the crocin pathway, but then what? Before going through with our project we wanted to make sure that we were actually doing something worthwhile, so we started off by doing a market analysis to confirm that there is a market for crocin.
With the market analysis we concluded that the compounds in the crocin pathway are very expensive, since today the only way to get them is to extract them from saffron. Saffron itself is harvested in a very labour-intensive process and Iran holds 95 % of the saffron production. This means that being able to produce the compounds synthetically could reduce the costs drastically. It’s hard to calculate exactly by how much the cost could be reduced since crocin is still very unexplored, but when comparing our project to a study done on cellulase enzymes we can estimate that a reduction of the price by 30 % might be possible and furthermore a reduction of 85 % might be possible on the industrial scale. These numbers definitely encouraged us to go ahead with the project.
You can read the entire market analysis here.

You can also see the short version made as an info-graphics here
While preparing the actual lab project for the summer, we kept stumbling upon the general “ethics” topic. We felt that we lacked the proper tools to fully and properly investigate an issue that is so important and yet so neglected in biological sciences. So we came up with the idea of writing down some helpful ethical guidelines ourselves, where the experience from our academic background came together into four parts of ethical question sets that we find important to address: intellectual property, work ethics, biosafety with genetic engineering and social responsibility.
We consulted Heidi Howards from the Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics and to our delight she agreed on helping us with her professional input for setting up guidelines. Our ambition is to motivate each and every iGEM team to accept their manifold ethical responsibilities and be able to state an elaborate declaration regarding their specific work. All of this boiled down into a booklet that introduces these four types of ethics every researcher will be confronted with, and summarizes it with a few questions that every iGEM team, in our opinion, should be able to answer. By this we want to contribute to the need of responsible researchers and a dearly needed open discussion.
To improve our work, we held online discussions with 15 other iGEM teams, where we could test our drafted questions and were lucky to receive great feedback, allowing us to develop the topic further. We also held a Reddit AMA to answer user questions regarding our specific topic and, as expected, were also confronted with ethical questions that the non-scientific audience might have. We incorporated every input we could collect and are proud to present the results of a summer’s work on bioethics in The Ethics Guide Book.
While creating The Ethics Guide Book we stated the importance of communication and addressing important ethics issues. So instead of only saying this, we decided to start an actual discussion. This was also a perfect opportunity to connect to other iGEM teams and thereby contribute to the community with collaborations.
Since iGEM teams are spread out all over the world we concluded that the best way to do this was over the internet. We set up a structure for online discussions using Google Hangouts. We planned for three occasions, with topics based on the chapters in The Ethics Guide Book. All discussions were closely related to what we consider important to every team's work during iGEM and therefore relevant to each participating team. To further broaden the accessibility we decided to broadcast each session live, making it possible for anyone that is interested to follow the discussion and comment.
All three sessions can be found on our YouTube-pageand the questions being addressed are from the correlating chapter in The Ethics Guide Book
From the discussions, iGEM Uppsala achieved a lot of insight from the 15 participating iGEM teams. Big thank you to iGEM ETH Zurich, iGEM Groningen, iGEM Lund, iGEM UiOslo, iGEM NAWI Graz, iGEM Chalmers Gothenburg, iGEM USyd, iGEM USP-Brazil, iGEM Toronto, iGEM Peshawar, iGEM Bielefeld-CeBiTec, iGEM CSU, iGEM Wageningen, iGEM Technion, iGEM DTU-Denmark, and iGEM Grenoble. It was great to share thoughts with each other to receive new insight and perspectives. We brought a lot of it back and integrated it with our own project, especially in The Ethics Guide Book from which the discussion questions were based.
We created an Ask Us Anything-thread on Reddit where anyone could ask questions concerning our project. The participation was high and it was a fun way of discussing various aspects of our work. The questions ranged from if we like saffron buns to more serious questions wondering about specific project details. It was exciting to see what parts of our project interested others and it was a practice to address the concerns and questions of the public. Some of this was also later integrated with our work on The Ethics Guide Book.
A panel discussion was planned and fulfilled as a contribution between our team and iGEM Stockholm 2017. The discussion took place in Stockholm and three guest speakers took part in the event. Anthony Forster, a researcher at Uppsala University, was one of the guest speakers. He leads a group that is researching RNA, protein synthesis and applications thereof (synthetic biology). Another speaker was Cecile van der Vlugt, a member of the iGEM safety commitee. She is also a researcher at “National Institute for Public Health and the Environment” in Utrecht, Netherlands. Her background is in the field of biology and biotechnology and she is nowadays working with environmental risk assessment and biosecurity. The last speaker was Heidi Howard, she has a Master's degree in Bioethics and works with research on ethical, legal and social aspects of; direct-to-consumer genetic testing, public health genomics, genomic medicine, among others.
The purpose of the event was to highlight different points of view on ethics in synthetic biology and to spread knowledge about synthetic biology. During the debate the audience had the opportunity to ask the panelists their own questions. This was a very successful event that was appreciated by everyone involved.
This forum is about open community related to biology and it is organized by the Community Biotechnology Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. For three days, 200 selected DIYBio activists from around the world were gathered and shared their works during the summit. We had one representative from our team who participated in the biosummit. In the forum, everyone experienced many diverse sessions and workshops. Our team also introduced this year's project and gave the workshop on how to design microfluidics chip as a continuation of last year’s project development of iGEM Uppsala. The summit covered various topics such as design, enabling technologies, biosecurity and biosafety, diversity and inclusion, creative thinkers, etc. In the forum, we got useful feedback and reached out to diverse communities around the world.
OpenHack is an organized hackathon with the ambition to help solving humanitarian and social problems. This is a several days long event where aid organizations, and social actors have the possibility to connect with technical talent and coders.
During OpenHack, our team involved itself in the open community which aims to solve problems related to the refugee situation in Sweden. We engaged with programmers and people with various background. From this event we gained knowledge on how to develop an idea, and this knowledge would later prove useful during our project. We saw these days as an opportunity to introduce the field of synthetic biology to other participants and also as a fun team building activity.
When addressing Intellectual Property Rights in The Ethics Guide Book we stumbled upon the thought of patenting our idea. To learn more about the legal parts of this we turned to Uppsala Innovation Centre for help. There we met with the lawyers Per Kjellin and Olivia Tolan, who could answer questions about our rights and discuss pros and cons. For example a patent would enable a protected environment for developing of our product but it would also limit the potential research opportunities. In the end we decided to not go ahead with the patenting but it was our research on the topic that made us able to take an informed decision, and we are now more educated on how to possibly proceed with another project in the future.
“The Student Conference in Science and Technology” is a yearly event where professors and students from the faculty of science and technology from Uppsala University get the opportunity to make presentations and receive feedback. Our team were glad to present our project during this day. The main part of the audience was first-year students. This was taken in consideration and the content of our presentation was adjusted to fit their level of knowledge. The audience gave our speakers useful feedback and we are happy that we got this occasion to practice our presentation. We actually won Best Presenter at the event, voted by the audience!
SynBioHour is an event that iGEM Uppsala Association organizes. The purpose is to give the general public knowledge about synthetic biology, iGEM and to make them interested in what is possible to do during an iGEM project. Similar to the student conference mentioned above, we got to present our project and it was a great opportunity to further discuss opinions regarding our project.
The iGEM Nordic Meetup (NIC) originated in Uppsala in 2015 as an opportunity to meet other teams from Northern Europe, get some feedback on the projects and to prepare the ground for future collaborations between the teams. It became a tradition that the next NIC is hosted by the team that wins the best presentation contest during the meetup. This year, teams have met in Copenhagen at an event hosted by iGEM UCopenhagen. During the first day we bonded over games and activities provided by the team. The second day was spent with lectures informing us about with various issues that we might run into during iGEM competition such as communication with media or ethical issues. Each team also presented their project and gained feedback from iGEM judges on how to address possible critical issues they might run into. Lively discussion continued until late night hours with a BBQ dinner prepared. The award for best presentation this year went to the newest team in the Nordic iGEM world: iGEM Lund. The voting by other iGEM teams’ representatives was almost unanimous and in agreement with the judges’ opinions. It was clear that iGEM Lund has an almost never ending enthusiasm about their project and an unique spirit and attitude amongst the teams! But even though we did not win the prize our team still got a shout out from the judges for having a reasonable and interesting project. We also got a great feedback and suggestions from other teams that helped us a lot while progressing in the project. Thanks to NIC we got the chance to meet other teams that are close to us and it gave us a great base for the other collaborations we had during the competition.
Teams represented at NIC: DTU-Denmark, SDU Denmark, UCopenhagen, Aalto-Helsinki, Chalmers-Gothenburg, Linkoping_Sweden, Stockholm, Uppsala, Lund
If you want to find out more, check out the aftermovie below from NIC!
During two weeks of the summer we shared our lab corridor with students from several chinese universities that was invited to Uppsala University for a course in synthetic biology. Since we shared the same interest in synthetic biology it was an opportunity to learn from each other, and it lead to many great discussions. We had some activities together with them as well, such as a “swedish fika” with swedish games, candies and pastries. Other activities include a trip to a lake in the surrounding area of Uppsala and one night we had dinner together at one of the student nations in Uppsala. All of these activities gave us the chance to get to know them better and to introduce them to iGEM in general while they got the most out of their trip to Sweden. We also held a more formal presentation of our project for the students where they had the opportunity to ask us questions. This gave us a chance to practice our presentation skills.