Biotechnology is the fastest growing technology sector and probably also one of the most controversial topics in today’s society. We believe that biology should be democratized, in order to give everyone the possibility to not only discuss our future, but to also shape it. Our overall goal in the Public Engagement and Education part of Human Practices was to get one step closer to establishing democratized biology.
We wanted to use the possibility within Human Practices in the iGEM competition to bring the topic of synthetic biology to the public. Although GMOs hold many possibilities in, for an example, future medication and fuels, we are also aware of the concerns regarding the negative sides of synthetic biology. We understand those concerns and want to give the public the possibility to understand how to engineer bacteria and design DNA. The public should be given the possibility to be part of the discussion, understand the facts, what there is to be concerned about regarding synthetic biology. We want to give every mindset the opportunity - no matter the experience - to create the future together.
Because of this, within our Public Engagement and Education work, we tried to reach out to all ages and groups in the society, such as children, high school students, academia, organisations and everyday people.
Riksförbundet Cystisk Fibros (The Swedish Cystic Fibrosis Association) invited iGEM Stockholm 2017 to join their biggest event, CF-spelen (CF-games) at the olympic stadium in Stockholm. Physical training is a key part to regulate CF and therefore the event is created to raise awareness of CF but also to encourage patients and patient’s families to work out.
We were honored to be a part of this event and wanted to show our biggest support but also to educate ourselves about living with CF. We had a stand where patients could come and ask us questions about our work, and as we joined the patients and families in the different sports, we learned more from them.
To our great delight, our project video was shown on the biggest screen for all attendants to see. The day was full of laughter and great time, although the most valuable experience that day was to encounter the daily life of the CF patients and what a struggle it is living with this disease. This only increased our motivation to eventually find a solution that can help battle cystic fibrosis.
THE ETHICS OF ENGINEERING LIFE - PANEL DISCUSSION
GMO and safety are not only hot topics for the scientific community and the general public, but are also a huge concern in our project, especially as we want to introduce bacteria into the lungs. We knew that to ever launch such a product, we would need to address the public's opinion. In collaboration with iGEM Uppsala 2017, we hosted a debate with the title of “The Ethics of Engineering Life” on the topics of safety and ethics regarding GMOs . We invited experts in the field with various opinions. Our panel consisted of Anthony C. Forster, a researcher at Uppsala University where he leads a group in protein synthesis and applications (synthetic biology), Heidi Howard a researcher working on the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) related to genetics and genomics, Cecile van der Vlugt, a member of Safety committee of iGEM and a researcher at National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Utrecht, Netherlands and Mona Hagi, a member of Green Youth of the Sweden Environmental Party (Miljöpartiet). Sadly Mona cancelled in the last moment.
The discussion was designed in such way that there was a base of questions the moderators (Amanda, project leader of iGEM Stockholm and Lucie, project leader of Uppsala) asked the panel. As the first questions started the discussion, the audience could join in. Throughout the debate, there was a flow of questions both from the panel to the audience and back. In such way we assured that the public got as much space in the debate as the panelists and that all voices and opinions could be heard and respected.
We are able to say that, although we had prepared the first set of questions to discuss in the event, the public played a key role on the debate moving the flow of the discussions towards the areas they thought were most interesting. Because of this, we were not able to discuss the questions we thought were worth raising, but we also received input from the audience on the aspects the public really considers as important.
The panel and the public event was very successful, with people from different backgrounds and opinions attending. After the event, people from the audience said they had been thinking and discussing the different aspects of GMOs even days after the debate. We were pleased by this statement as it confirmed that we had achieved our goal: to raise awareness and opinions towards GMOs and to open up a new discussion on this subject. It was therefore important that we made sure the discussion was set up as objectively as possible, in order not to provide any bias on the issue.
KIDS HACK DAY
Kids hack day is a non profit organization in Stockholm based on the idea to engage kids to do something good with technology and to raise curiosity in the future of technology. In a playful way kids learn how to program or build technological things and all that while having fun.
Kids Hack Day has previously been aimed towards programming and robotics, so they were delighted that we for the first time could host a biology station. We participated with a station to show kids how it could look like to work in a lab, how interesting the small things in life are. Together with them we extracted DNA from a banana, grew bacteria and learned how to pipette. After successfully extracting the DNA, a young boy said: “After doing this experiment, it feels like I can do anything!”.
Before Science and Art split, Artists like Leonardo da Vinci where both Scientists and Artists. We believe that in an innovation hungry world it gets more and more important that Art and Science fuse and collaborate again. Within our Stockholm Team history we had great experiences the last two years in collaborating with different backgrounds, working together from day one on.
Within the innovation, design and art festival “Gather festival” we hosted an open Box talk about the future of us, humans. Together with Artists and Designers we wanted to talk about ethical questions in how far we should go in modifying our DNA. But also more specific about medication and the future possibilities of being immortal. Raising the interest of artists to be involved in science, to inspire and spark discussions in biotechnology.
Just because iGEM is over it does not mean that we will stop encouraging people to be part of the discussion. Stockholm’s innovation atmosphere is growing and we believe that multidisciplinarity is the way of going forward. For example, Stockholm Makerspace Biolab is the first step to give the public society the possibility to learn and understand how to modifying DNA. An initiative we want to build upon. In the future we will keep on the tradition of Stockholms iGEM Teams to host Workshops at the community lab. These workshops are very important for our team, as three members of this years iGEM Stockholm Team entered iGEM via Stockholm’s Makerspace, where they joined workshops organized by iGEM Stockholm 2016.
We want to encourage the public to learn, understand and be able to take part in the discussions, to shape our future the best possible way, together.
In the spirit of democratic biology, we wanted to include university students and academic professionals under our targeted groups. Therefore, we decided to hold two educational seminars about synthetic biology and iGEM at our main universities, Karolinska Institutet and KTH The Royal Institute of Technology, with more than 40 participants in each one of them.
We dedicated half of the seminars to the audience, opening up an opportunity for discussion and questions. Our goal was to not only raise awareness about iGEM and synthetic biology but also to initiate a debate while avoiding forcing our opinion on them. After the events, we had the chance to mingle with the attendants and received great feedback from them. Surprisingly many are not familiar with synthetic biology and we believe that education and discussion is the way to open up the right path in this sector.
Social Media is today's way of sharing information, creations and social life. We wanted to be able to target all groups of people and complementary to our events, we wanted to make science available online through our youtube channel.
Science with Sonia
We hosted a show called Science with Sonia, where Sonia, in our team, invited guests relevant to our project and iGEM to teach and discuss mucus, synthetic biology, iGEM and probiotics.
RECRUITMENT EVENT, KTH, KI and KONSTFACK
To keep iGEM alive in Stockholm, an organisation called Stockholm Genetically Engineered Machines (SGEM) was created 2015 of the former iGEM Stockholm team. SGEM consists alumnis from previous iGEM Stockholm teams. Together with SGEM, we held 4 recruitment events at the different schools, to explain about our journey, how amazing iGEM is, and how we want more students to be a part of this! We also had the help of TU Darmstadt during this event. For more information on our collaboration with Darmstadt, please click here.
We also hosted an event at Konstfack, University College of Arts, Crafts and Design to inspire art students, as iGEM is not all about science, and science is not only for scientists!
As a Swedish team, we understand the importance of a good fika break, or a chance to take some coffee and food and go back to work. These coffee hours are normally a break for students, where they recharge energy and have the chance to mingle and meet students from other programs. Being such a multidisciplinary team, we understand the value of having these relaxed talks with other students, in order to get inspired, share ideas and solve problems. Because of this, we thought it would be a good idea to host different coffee hours at the schools we study at.
During the coffee hours we hosted, we were able to discuss with students from our schools different parts of our project, the prospects of our project, the future of iGEM Stockholm and the relevance of organizations like ours in the student life of an innovative city like Stockholm.
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
With reaching out to High School Students we wanted to not only encourage young students to participate in iGEM but also to raise interest in going a scientific pathway. We think that iGEM is a unique opportunity for high school students who are at a critical point with respect to their educational and career choices. With hands-on experience in a great variety of multidisciplinary facets not only in synthetic biology, instead also in mathematics, computer science or even very different disciplines like communication, finance or social engagement to find a future role in their individual career.
We went to one of our old high schools, the roots where we learned all about biology to give something back to our privileged educational pathway. Our teacher was very grateful about our presentation and saw iGEM as a great chance to understand DNA in a hands on way. Before summer we already gave a presentation to the last years students about what synthetic biology is. Our teacher will keep on educating while following our work all the way to Boston to give more practical examples to the students.
During September, members of TU Darmstadt travelled together with high school students from Germany to Stockholm. Together with iGEM Darmstadt, we hosted a seminar about synthetic biology and our projects to educate and encourage the students from germany about synthetic biology. Darmstadt also joined our recruitment event to inspire more students to join iGEM. For more information, please click here.