Team:Harvard/human practices/vision


our vision

As our population increases and our food needs change in response to external and internal pressures, the need for the engineering of food will become ever more necessary. Genetic engineering for drought or flood resistance, decreased chemical inputs such as fertilizer or pesticide, and increased micronutrient content can positively change the distribution of food to areas of the world plagued by hunger and lessen the environmental impact of growing and transporting our food. As student genetic engineers and synthetic biologists, we are sensitive to the public concerns about genetically engineering our food crops; the current proprietary, secretive and corporate nature of how much of plant genetic engineering is done, the unfair distribution of valuable technologies in the developing world, the emphasis on monoculture and concurrent decreasing of genetic diversity in agriculture, and the uniform application of technologies regardless of unique local environmental and cultural needs. With this in mind, we have developed the iGEM iGarden project to develop an open source and personalized vision of genetically engineered plants, grown locally, specially tailored to individual needs.

iGarden is personal

At the heart of iGarden, beyond the science, lies the desire to make our food interesting and maybe even fun! We envision the iGarden to a fully customizable kit: the ability to change any plant characteristic you can think of in a simple and quick manner, and that can be done in your backyard.

Version 1.0 of the iGarden being presented at the iGEM Jamboree represents the open-source, modular framework for engineering of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana based on BioBrick parts and three specific personalized modifications--alteration of taste, flower petal color, and removal of plant allergens. We have chosen these three areas to focus on as we believe they cover a very broad spectrum what is possible in terms of plant alterations and they inspired our own personal interest. By making plants look different, taste different and be accessible to more people, in many ways these initial changes are a microcosm of the changes we want to induce in the GM community: a new look, a new set of principles and available to everyone.

We do, however, fully expect more opportunities for alterations to become available in the future. We hope that iGarden owners will be able to swap and trade plants characteristics with other owners, or make their own changes and additions to their home garden by themselves. In this way, we will be developing a kit that, hopefully, will contain something of interest for everyone!

iGarden is safe

All genetic modifications must consider the safety of the research and the final project presented, but none with as much rigor as for plants grown in open fields and foods that people eat. We are very concerned that our project is done with the utmost care for maintaining safety and for preventing any unwanted spread of engineered plants or transgenes into the environment and have designed our project around this by building in the Genetic Fence. The Genetic Fence we have designed allows iGarden plants to grow only in the presence of a fence compound (in version 1.0 a non-toxic pesticide currently approved for use in agriculture) thus containing the plants to a defined area and preventing unintentional spread of both plant-life and/or genetic material.

iGarden is open-source

Following the ethos of iGEM, everything in the iGarden project is open-source and modular - all components of our project are available to public through the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. In this way, the iGarden is available to everyone and the basis of the science behind the ideas is readily accessible and critiqued. By creating a project that is driven by interest and excitement for the future of plant engineering rather than profit, we hope to eradicate much of the “big-business” perspective of Genetic Engineering.

iGarden is educational

The opportunity to personally genetically modify food provides a unique and interactive method for educating individuals about GM foods. By choosing customizable attributes and witnessing the plants grow, the gardener gains insight into genetic engineering through an organic lens. No longer will genetic engineering be restricted to large corporations and scientists. Instead, iGarden aims to democratize the process of creating GM foods by giving the public the tools to create their own! There’s no better way to learn about GM foods than to modify, grow, and eat your own!