Team:Pasteur Paris/Engagement

Public Engagement


Our team spent a lot of time thinking about innovative ways to spread knowledge about synthetic biology and the aether project. We have particularly devoted ourselves to reaching the widest possible audience and creating a dialogue with this audience through surveys and questionnaires. We really focused on the game to interact with the general public by organizing the Fine Particulates Hunt, treasure hunt allowing as many people understand the issues of synthetic biology and our project.

We also participated in conferences and organized meetings to present synthetic biology as a possible solution to fight against air pollution. We met public institutions, such as the Ministry of the Environment and the Paris City Hall to discuss with them about our project.

Finally, to reach the widest audience, we have focused on communication through traditional media (newspapers, radio ...).

The hunt for Particulate Matter

On September 16th, 2017, we organized an innovative event to raise awareness of the stakes of our project: a treasure hunt in the streets of Paris to inform the participants in a fun way to the problem of air pollution and show them how synthetic biology could be a solution to fight against this issue.

The principle of the hunt was as follows: at each stage, participants had to find a clue to solve a final riddle, then they had to go through a booth where an activity / game around a theme took place. People who visited a stand would receive a clue about the location of the next step. The principle of ​​this event was to educate the participants in a fun way and to make sure that the ballad would be accessible to children accompanied by their parents, adults or people with reduced mobility. At the end of the event, we drew lots among the people who solved the final puzzle: "Biologie de synthèse" (synthetic biology in French). We had then given the participants some clues about what is synthetic biology, and how do we use it in our project. A grand prize was awarded: a bike!

The event was supported by several French institutions: The Ministry of the Environment (which highlighted our event on its website, the Respire association, the Souffle Foundation, Bike in Paris, the Journal des Grandes Ecoles et des Universités newspaper, the Pasteur Institute and the Paris City Hall.

This event was a great success as 108 people registered and nearly 95 participated in the treasure hunt. Like the rest of our project, the security of the participants was our top priority. To do so, we filed a request to occupy the public space with the Paris City Hall and the Paris police headquarters, since our journey passed through places as famous as Notre Dame de Paris, the Pantheon, the Senate, Boulevard Saint-Michel ... At each step of the treasure hunt, there was also a safety officer that could immediately report to the police if there were any accident.

In addition, this event received compliments from the Mayor of Paris, who said on Twitter: "Congratulations to the team of the @ iGEM_Pasteur for this educational and fun action on the #Pollution of the air" and was underlined by several national newspapers: Le Parisien and 20 Minutes.

This innovative event has allowed us to establish a dialogue outside the laboratory. Its playful nature has made it possible to remove the barrier of knowledge and discuss in an original way around our project of synthetic biology. We also sent a questionnaire to all participants after the event: we obtained 43 responses, the results of which are presented below.

As we can see, 93% of the participants thought the Fine Particulate Hunt allowed them to learn about synthetic biology and air pollution, and all the participants appreciated the format of the treasure hunting to discover a scientific topic. We also asked other questions about our device and integrated the answers to the design of our product.

A global questionnaire

How is the air pollution issue perceived and how potential solutions for it are contemplated by citizens? We made a survey about the use of synthetic biology to fight air pollution, for which we received more than 2300 responses worldwide, including 1874 from Europe, 213 from Asia, 97 from America, 71 from Africa, 24 from South America and 9 from Oceania. The aim was to better understand the expectations of people concerning air pollution, and to know if the idea of using synthetic biology as a solution would be well accepted. Our second purpose was also a way to teach people about synthetic biology and air pollution.

Design of survey

We divided the questionnaire into three parts: the first one collected information about the participant's profile; the second part asked the participant about his reaction to air pollution and his knowledge of the different pollutants and sources of pollution; and the last one finally focused on the knowledge of the subject on synthetic biology and its acceptance of solutions using this branch of biology.

Spread of the survey

We have used the following method to spread the questionnaire around the world.

We began by sharing the questionnaire on social networks (facebook, twitter), but we soon realized that this method would be insufficient to obtain representative results. Indeed, after 500 responses, we had 90% of responses from young people (18-26 years) in Europe.

Participants profile

We obtained the following participants profiles:

Overview of the answers on a global scale

You may click on the questions to get a better look at the maps

Design of a representative sample in Europe

After discussions with our partners from UChile_OpenBio-CeBiB team, we concluded that our results had a problem of representativeness, particularly about the age repartition. But our survey had the advantage of having many participants. So, we decided to extract a subsample of our survey, that would be representative of the European population.

According to Eurostat, whose main responsibilities are to provide statistical information to the institutions of the European Union (EU) and to promote the harmonisation of statistical methods across its member states, we had the following repartition of the European population in 2016.

Age 0-14 15-24 25-49 50-64 65-79 >80
Part 15.6 11.1 34.1 20.1 13.8 >5.4

We also found statistics about the number of tertiary students by level and saw on the world bank group website that 38% European population is rural. With that information, we extracted the following subsample from our database:

Sample results

Using our Europe representative subsample, we obtained the following results for our survey.

We gave the following definition for particulate matter: Atmospheric particulates are microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the Earth's atmosphere. It’s the deadliest form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood stream unfiltered, causing permanent DNA mutations, heart attacks, and premature death.

We then gave the following definition for synthetic biology: Synthetic biology is a field in biology where biological functions found in living systems of nature, are used as solutions to address technical issues in various areas such as health, environment, basic science or new energies. Researchers modify an organism, like a bacteria’s DNA, to give it new properties such as the ability to produce a medicine (synthesis of insulin), depollute, emit fluorescence or the ability to detect viruses.

We gave the following definition for endocrine disruptor: Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere at a certain level with your endocrine (or hormone) systems. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.

Then we asked questions to evaluate the knowledge of people regarding synthetic biology and see if they would accept a solution based on it.

In order to improve the understanding of synthetic biology of the participant we gave him two examples of synthetic biology applications (two past iGEM projects).

Example 1: An example for the use of synthetic biology is iGEM Paris Bettencourt's 2015 project. They improved an Indian dish by adding vitamins and nutriments produced by living bacteria (originally obtained from the fermented food itself), to help spread those nutriments among Indian people. The bacteria are killed before the meal is consumed.

Example 2: Another application for synthetic biology is the use of genetically modified bacteria to bait and eliminate bee killing parasites.

We gave the following definition for GMO: A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are used to produce many medications, genetically modified foods, to produce other goods and are widely used in scientific research.

How we educated with the survey

This questionnaire allowed us to know the opinion of more than 2300 people about air pollution and synthetic biology. We integrated this precious knowledge in the design of our device and our scenario. We the questionnaire had an educational purpose. Indeed, in this questionnaire we put many definitions to educate the participants. Several participants thanked us for doing so and emphasized the informative nature of our investigation. The questionnaire was therefore a way for us to educate more than 2,300 people worldwide.

Meetings with middle school and high school students

On May 18th, one of our team members, Pierre-Louis, took advantage of his stay in China to go to a college in Huailai City in the west of Beijing. In this college, he gave a course on air pollution and synthetic biology. To better convey his message, he gave part of his presentation in Chinese. The fun aspect was essential in his presentation: thus, to encourage interactions, he offered sweets to all students who participated in the quizzes and games he had prepared.

Two members of our team, Karima and Diane, went on April 29th, 2017 to Vincennes in the east of Paris to organize workshops on the theme "Bacteria in my belly?" For children 8 to 12 years. Karima and Diane presented the essential role of bacteria and the diversity of the intestinal microbiota. To make the presentation more interactive, children could observe under microscope the different types of bacteria to become aware of their diversity.

On May 23rd, two of our team members, Juliette and Gabriel, plus our coach, Pr. Gopaul, went to the High School Charles de Gaulle of Poissy. During a half-an-hour-long presentation, we introduced the students of a class to the field of synthetic biology, beginning with the more theoric aspects and then, the problematics and issues linked to that theme. We briefly exposed to them our project and given them an idea of what is iGEM, which could be interesting for them to know since iGEM teams composed of High School students exist.

Diffusion through the media

We were convinced of the importance of going through the traditional media to communicate around our project. Our work has been presented in different national journals:

Meetings with institutional actors in the fight against air pollution

Then, after sensitizing the general public by the means we have exposed so far, we also presented the solution aether to a number of actors in the fight against pollution. We introduced them about our solution based on synthetic biology and we benefited from their feedback to improve the design and scenario of our device.

French Ministry of Environment

On August 8th, 2017, we met Mr. Hubert Holin, in charge of air quality at the Ministry of the Environment. We introduced him to iGEM, our project, and the application scenario we envisioned. M. Holin comforted us in our idea of ​​targeting indoor pollution. Indeed, he said that to clean the outside air, it is better to fight the sources than to propose a solution downstream. He also described the energy autonomy of our product as a great advantage for some emerging countries, where access to electricity is not always guaranteed. He told us that it would be interesting to have a first commercial phase (in the scenario, we considered rather a free distribution) on a smaller scale (10,000 copies for example). Such an approach would show the politicians that there is an appetite for the general public and that there is a real solution to the problem of indoor air pollution. By mapping the pollutants, we could also sound the alarm. Finally, Mr. Holin gave us valuable advice on how we could get funding for our project.

City Hall of Paris

September 11th, we presented our project to the City of Paris. Mrs. Caroline Daude, Transport Consultant, and Mr. Serge Orru, WWF France Advisor and Former Director welcomed us to discuss our project. They were very interested in our project and in the fact that we are a multidisciplinary team. When we have our prototype, we will have to come back to the City Hall to discuss of their support for the development of our project. Their remarks also helped us to develop our scenario.

Association Respire

RESPIRE, National Association for the Preservation and Improvement of Air Quality, is an association of citizens, founded in February 2011, dedicated to the improvement of air quality. She specialized in understanding the issues related to air pollution in France and Europe, be they political, economic, social and health. It builds on existing scientific and public data as well as regulations to inform, communicate, develop technical tools and build advocacy. The 31st July, we met Sébastien Vray, the president of this association to discuss our project and better understand the issues of air pollution in France.

Breath Foundation

The Breath Foundation aims to bring together all the actors involved at the national level in the fight against respiratory diseases. Its main mission is to encourage and support the development of research projects in the fight against respiratory diseases and their causes, thanks to funding from patrons and public generosity. We met the president of the foundation on July 5th. This meeting allowed us to receive expertise on pollutants and respiratory diseases. We also validated the relevance of our targets, and our choice to focus on indoor pollution. Finally, we got a feedback on the overall project.


AIRPARIF is an organisation responsible for monitoring the air quality in the Paris agglomeration. On August 11th, we met with Thomas Alcaraz, engineer at Airparif, that proposed us to become a member of the Airlab, a broad ecosystem with a network of actors in the fight against air pollution. It wants to position itself to push the structures of Ile-de-France and to develop employment and the economy around the fight against pollution.

Conferences with scientific experts in the field of air pollution

The international conference on Atmospheric Sciences and Application to Air Quality (ASAAQ)

This conference was initiated in Seoul in 1985. Since then, ASAAQ has been held in Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, Seattle, Beijing, Taipei, Tsukuba, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Jinan, Seoul and Kobe. The ASAAQ Conference covers broad topics on atmospheric sciences from the observation, analysis, to the simulation of air quality on all scales (from urban to global), including emissions, transport, diffusion, chemistry, removal processes, impacts, and air quality management.

ASAAQ 14 took place in Strasbourg, France on 29 - 31 May 2017, and fostered scientific discussion and exchange of information on the latest research and practical applications of atmospheric science to air quality issues. Three of our members attended the ASAAQ conference and presented the aether project to air pollution experts from all around the world. After the conference, we were able to talk to researchers. Our discussions allowed us to confirm the relevance of targeting PAHs.

7th morning of the HEIQA college of experts" (Health Environment and Indoor Air Quality)

On October 26th, two of our members, Azéline and Juliette, participated in the working morning of the HEIQA panel of experts. They attended a series of conferences on indoor air quality and could interact with allergy health professionals and people working on the development of indoor air cleaners. This conference confirmed us on a statement that we made: there is still little work and studies on indoor air while it is the most polluted. Creating an indoor pollution database would be an excellent initiative. Azéline and Juliette then attended a conference on air purifiers with a state of the art of existing models. It turned out that systems that have the most sense for the future are those that do not consume energy (passive), that do not have the risk of rejecting pollutants after and that are not too expensive. Azéline and Juliette then had the opportunity to present our project aether, which received very good feedback.

Participation in forums

BIOTechno Forum

Réseau BIOTechno is a french network and a unique organization in Europe, uniting 12 doctoral students and PhDs associations of Biotechnology spread over the whole country. The aim of the events “Forum BIOtechno 2017” organized on June 16th was to enable PhD students to highlight their transferable skills from Academia to industry. We took advantage from this opportunity to present our project to biotechnology experts. It was also a great opportunity to train ourselves to pitch the project.

Vivatech forum

VivaTech is the world’s rendezvous for startups and leaders to celebrate innovation together. It’s a gathering of the world’s brightest minds, talents, and products. On June 17th, we had the opportunity to present our project to several enterprises, get feedback and discuss about potential partnership.

To conclude, during this 10 months we really tried to communicate with the public and experts around our project, synthetic biology and air pollution. We did our utmost to reach the widest audience and took advantage of every opportunity to publicize our project, whether it was through a scavenger hunt, a questionnaire, meetings ... or even by giving a flyer of our project to the President of France, Emmanuel Macron!