Team:Cornell/Outreach & Human Practices


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The Project Background Design Parts Submitted to the Registry Notebook The Team Outreach & Human Practices

Outreach and Human Practices


Synthetic biology is based on the application of systems design to complex biological processes that will offer breakthrough solutions to many needs of industry as well as to society. Among the potential applications of this new field is the creation of bioengineered, single-celled microorganisms called “genetically engineered machines.” These organisms are usually bacteria whose genomes have been modified by standardized off-the-shelf biological gene “parts” to code for specific functions such as producing pharmaceuticals, detecting toxic chemicals, generating hydrogen, and destroying cancer cells. Although these organisms seem promising to scientists, their ultimate fate rests in the hands of a largely uninformed and cynical public in a time when awareness of potent influenza strains and terrorism is high and money runs short. Consequently, the public’s most pressing concerns revolve around topics such as the accidental release of synthesized pathogens, the ethical implications of interacting with life on a genetic level, the means of funding proposed research projects, and the possibility of “do-it-yourself biology” (DIY Bio), in which biological "hackers" can alter the genetic code in their home garages to create modified organisms. The public’s concerns for safety and ethics should be heard openly and integrated into Synthetic Biology in the form of discussions and workshops to create a more informed society and to foster more collaboration in the scientific community.

CU GEM members firmly believe in the value of outreach programs that educate the community about the benefits of synthetic biology. Only by achieving public acceptance and support of synthetic biology will the science ascend to its true potential.

CURIE is a one-week summer program for high school girls who have demonstrated an ability to excel in math and science. During the summer, the Cornell University Genetically Engineered Machines (CU GEM) team gave a presentation to the CURIE students about the principles of synthetic biology and the iGEM competition. After the presentation, the CU GEM team gave the students a lab tour and demonstration. CU GEM will continue to work with CURIE in the future, in hopes of promoting the potential of synthetic biology to the rising scientists of the world.

The Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers is a unique opportunity for high school biology teachers to come to Cornell. This one-week experience involves guest lectures and lab lectures in hope that participating teachers can provide a better learning experience for their high school students. CU GEM gave a presentation to the teachers about synthetic biology, in hopes of the teachers teaching certain aspects of the field to their high school students. Additionally, CU GEM actively involved groups of teachers in using A Plasmid Editor (ApE) software and gel electrophoresis to gain a better understanding of how promoter/RBS and the RFP coding sequence BioBrick parts can be ligated to create an RFP reporter device.


1. “About.” 2009. iGEM. 7 October 2009 <>

2. Johnson, Carolyn Y. “Accessible Science: Hackers Aim to Make Biology Household Practice.” Boston Globe 15 September 2008; 7 October 2009 <>

3. “About.” 2009. DIYbio. 7 October 2009 <>