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human practice


Human practice - how to increase the public awareness of synthetic biology

The most obvious problem of placing the synthetic biology into a societal context is that most people are just not aware of it. While this is common to most fields of science, people are more aware of the end products of the technology that are used to improve the quality of life. We were discussing what could improve the awareness of synthetic biology in public and come up with the list of the following most important factors.

  • The best promotion of synthetic biology are success stories. If synthetic biology can be used to solve important problems of the humanity (health, energy, environment), its public awareness will definitely increase.
  • Make it exciting and interesting (approaching the solution of a problem from a fresh perspective rather than with brute force). Here is where iGEM comes to stage as the playground for new and inventive ideas in synthetic biology.
  • Explain it simply, so that your grandmother understands it and your little brother will keep attention. Science is complex and we need to have some understanding of basic concepts, but is it really impossible to explain an idea to be comprehensible to nonspecialists ?
  • Crossing borders between disciplines.

We believe that our project may lead to real world applications that could lead to technological solutions and improvement of the quality of life, therefore we are working towards the success story.

We certainly feel that our project, as many other iGEM projects, bring innovative and fresh perspectives that stimulate thinking “out of the box”.

Those conclusions led us to prepare the presentation of our project in »plain english« and tested it on our grandmothers (and grandfathers, aunts, nieces...). Perhaps they just wanted to be kind to their grandchildren but they said they understood it. You should judge for yourself.

Our project in plain english

DNA Explorer board game

What is the best way to learn new things? When you are having fun! That is why we also created a game in which anybody can learn about synthetic biology through a game. DNA explorer is a board game with elements from our project, BioBrick system and DNA in general, with a goal to introduce the field of synthetic biology to general public, break the stereotype of science being boring and with some luck inspire future iGEM participants. So grab a dice and start playing!

(A4 format version)

Reviews from high school students, who volunteered to try out our board game:
"DNA explorer is an amazing game. I love it because I had fun and learned a lot at the same time!"
"I really like this game because I learned so much without even realizing it."
"DNA explorer is such a great game because it sums up everything an average person should know about DNA. But unlike school books it does this in a fun and interesting way."
"DNA explorer is a game which has helped me to understand the world of synthetic biology a lot better. It is fun and educational but more importantly it is simple. I believe that many schools could benefit from using this game because it explains things that are difficult to understand for children in a simple and fun way."

This year, four students of computer sciences were also included in the team. This is their story.
Students of computer science and the beginning of their journey in the world of synthetic biology:

"Four poor students were brought from the world of zeros and ones to the world of proteins and DNA. Those students only heard rumors that in synthetic biology bugs are good. We joined the iGEM Team Slovenia in search of an insight of this universe, because we are aware that the not so distant future of computer science will inevitably be built with BioBricks. The summer of 2010 ended and we are now convinced that these parallel universes are closer than they appear. After all these months our lab skills may still be on a waterboy/girl level, but we can now tell our colleagues of a house they/we will some day live in. The walls of that house are being built with BioBricks."

Bio aspect on the cooperation with computer part of the team

Bridging sciences has always been a great challenge. Nowadays interdisciplinarity, despite this term being a little cliche, is somewhat encoded into the minds of the scientists almost by default.

When starting this years iGEM project, student members of the biological part of the team didn't know excatly where to put the enthusiastic team colleagues from the computer science and how this cooperation will proceed. To put it differently, the project at its roots and the idea behind it undoubtedly promised interwinding both disciplines, but this was not that clear at the moment. It is something we agreed on after the project. Nevertheless, both parts of the team were demanding and curious enough to have a tip of each others study fields in order to break the bridge between the sciences. Eventhough, it was a great challenge to find a common path which ultimately unified both parts of the team beyond the scope of our expectations. We were enrolled in every day cooperation in order to improve their understanding of fundamental properties of biological system functioning as well as our understanding of what modelling is all about. We were therefore encouraged by them to get involved into their work, as well as they had to approach us in order to get the real life data, needed for their model to function properly and as realistically as possible. We considered and still consider this kind of cooperation extremely beneficial and by observing how our project was actually supported by the modelling outcomes, we can conclude it is of extreme importance to select forecoming teams as interwinding as this years'. Synthetic biology is definetely a place for such scientific overlaps.