Exemplary Human Practices Projects
Here we have listed some examples of teams’ efforts in Integrated Human Practices and Education and Public Engagement. Many teams have done exceptional work in both of these related areas, but please note that we mean to highlight specific aspects of their work, not entire projects.
We hope these examples provide inspiration; however, they should not be prescriptive. Your team should find an area of focus most appropriate to and resonant with your team’s project and interests. We love to see new approaches.
You can find more examples of excellent and inspiring work to build upon by checking out previous Integrated HP special prize winners and nominees (here are links to the 2018 and 2017 results) and previous years’ Human Practices Hubs (here are links to the 2018 and 2017 hubs).
Integrated Human Practices
Teams’ Integrated Human Practices efforts take many forms. Here are a few exemplary past efforts in various topic areas to demonstrate the breadth of teams’ work. We hope they may provide useful inspiration for your own creative and careful engagement with Human Practices issues.
Engaging with potential users, stakeholders and other experts
Teams have often focused their Human Practices efforts on identifying local challenges that their project might help solve in coordination and/or cooperation with others. In these cases, teams often engage with potential users, stakeholders and other experts to inform their project selection, design and execution.
For example, the 2018 RuiaMumbai team (Best Integrated Human Practices, Undergrad) aimed to produce bacteria that could clean stains from paan, a local delicacy. The team continually developed and strengthened their approach through consultation with many experts and stakeholders. For example, they approached paan vendors and an expert to identify and target the colour-producing ingredient in paan. They also approached concerned agencies and industry to understand product criteria preferred by potential users.
The 2018 Stockholm team (Best Integrated Human Practices, Overgrad) developed a system to remove antibiotic pollutants from water. The team split their project into four phases and were able to adapt their design based on stakeholder feedback received during each phase. They consulted diverse stakeholders, including academic philosophers, environmental regulators, pharmaceutical companies, hospital administrators, and wastewater treatment plant staff across three different cities.
The TUDelft 2017 team (Grand Prize, Overgrad; Best Integrated Human Practices,Overgrad) became interested in the dairy industry and learnt about the problem of mastitis, a disease afflicting cows on nearby farms. The team worked closely with the dairy farmer, lab researchers and veterinarians to develop a diagnostic tool that the farmer could easily use by testing their product with the farmer and incorporating feedback into their design.
The HSiTaiwan 2016 (Grand Prize, High School; Nominee, Best Integrated Human Practices, High School) team looked to address the problem of toxins in traditional Chinese medicines. They spoke with government regulators and manufacturers of Chinese medicine and analyzed government-conducted national health interview surveys to better understand current Chinese medicine use and toxin management practices. Equipped with this new understanding, the team designed a biosensor to detect the presence of toxins.
In each of these cases, teams demonstrated great consideration and integration of stakeholder needs and concerns by documenting how/what they learned and how their project goals, design, execution and communication was changed.
Researching policies and practices
Many teams have done additional research into institutional, local, national, and international policies and practices related to their projects. For example, the SCUT FSE 2017 team collaborated with NPU China 2017 to analyze biosafety laws, regulations and practices in industrial settings across China, the EU and the US. The teams also analyzed the safety concerns identified by 2016 iGEM gold medal winners. SCUT FSE summarized their research and findings in a report, which they then included on their wiki.
Other teams have done related work. The Manchester 2017 team collaborated with the UChile 2017 team and others to conduct an analysis of GMO regulations in Chile, Brazil, USA, EU, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, India and Canada. (The Manchester team used this research to explore where would be best to develop their phosphorus removal method for wastewater treatment plants, ultimately deciding on Canada.) Still more teams have focused principally on addressing local policies and regulations. For example, the Tec-Chihuahua 2017 team joined forces with a group of law students and professors at their school to research Mexico’s biosafety regulations, identified critical regulatory gaps associated with their own project, and met with local government representatives to propose new biosafety regulations that addressed these gaps.
Designing novel technical approaches to issues
Many teams have developed novel technical approaches to gather data about or respond to issues related to their project.
The 2018 SZU-China team (2nd Runner Up, Undergrad) developed Biocompany, an applet integrated into a popular chat app. The applet was used to gather public’s idea and feedback on the project. Their cockroach terminator idea and box design were inspired by public suggestions from the applet.
Heidelberg 2017 (2nd Runner Up, Grand Prize, Undergrad; Best Integrated Human Practices, Undergrad) identified and addressed safety and security concerns presented by the methods of directed evolution they were developing and utilizing in their projects. Heidelberg not only recognized and flagged safety issues associated with their project but also went further, developing a tool that would address both their own project’s safety challenges and those of other research teams doing related work. In consultation with experts in data processing and data safety, the Heidelberg team built software to scan input sequences for potential hazards. They then made their screening tool available on their team wiki so that other research teams could use and adapt it.
Developing new philosophical and ethical insights
Other teams have used philosophy and ethics to give their HP reflections more structure and to lend clarity to complex concepts (e.g. respect, responsibility, or morality). One way to do this is to apply existing ethics frameworks or principles to a project, identifying which philosophical questions emerge and—this is the tough part—devising responses or adapting the project as needed.
For example, Bielefeld 2017 (Best Foundational Advance Project, Overgrad) worked on expansion of the genetic code using non-canonical amino acids. The investigated the implications of their work by interviewing a broad range of experts—not only scientists but also leaders from several religions, ethicists, doctors, and philosophers. The team then wrote a report summarizing these perspectives on the risks and benefits of their project.
Technion-Israel 2017 discovered that there were very few resources available to iGEM teams wanting to address ethical issues regarding their project, and that most sources were used complex language and were difficult to understand. The team consulted experts and the literature to develop an Ethics Handbook for iGEM teams. In 2018, the Groningen and Bordeaux teams made use of the handbook in their collaborative ethical evaluations of the production of bioplastics from cellulose.
The 2012 Evry team provides one of the most impressive examples of ethical insights being deeply integrated into an iGEM project. Their project introduced the Western clawed frog as a new chassis for synthetic biology, and their Human Practices efforts explored the philosophical implications of their proposal: What does it mean to introduce a living thing as a “chassis,” a word most frequently used to describe the base frame of a vehicle? To address this question, the team explored literature by prominent thinkers in philosophy, history of science, genetics and other disciplines in a series of wiki entries. They held meetings with DIY Biohackers and humanities students to discuss the ethics of engineering animals.
Assessing impact and feasibility of potential products
Some teams have examined the impact and feasibility of developing, scaling and commercializing any real-world products resulting from their projects.
For example, the 2018 Valencia UPV team (Grand Prize, Undergrad) did a market segmentation analysis for their accessible, easy-to-use biological printer. They then explored the Kano model methodology for gathering feedback, ranking user preferences, and adapting their design. The team carefully documented their process and results to encourage future iGEM teams to use the methodology.
UC Davis 2014 (Grand Prize, Overgrad) developed an biosensor to detect rancid or otherwise defective olive oil. The team gathered information from many stakeholders in the olive oil industry and used it to produce a report outlining relevant policies and standards, the steps that would be needed to adapt their sensor for industrial use, and the commercial implications if it were adapted.
Other teams have explored issues of intellectual property (IP) related to their work. The 2017 Aalto-Helsinki team documented their entrepreneurship process, including writing a report on the results of their patent screen. Both the 2012 Stanford-Brown Team and the 2012 British Columbia Team made IP and patent guides for other iGEM teams hoping to better understand how the rights to their discoveries and inventions might be controlled and/or shared.
Creating frameworks and tools for human practices
Several teams have used their reflections to develop and adapt frameworks and tools that might help other iGEMers and researchers incorporate Human Practices considerations into their work.
For example, Imperial College 2016 (Grand Prize, Undergrad) developed a new problem-solving framework. They combined two decision-making frameworks — the Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) protocol, a formalized way to reflect on social, ethical, and economic considerations and the problem-based learning (PBL) framework. After using this combined frameworks to guide their own HP efforts, the team documented and shared it to provide a new strategy by which iGEM teams (and other biological engineers) might integrate Human Practices concerns into their work process.
Exeter 2017 also used and assessed frameworks for guiding innovation, ultimately using the AREA (Anticipate, Reflect, Engage, Act) framework, a guide to the Responsible Research and Innovation process endorsed by the European Commission, as a reference throughout their project. On their wiki, the team explained each of their project steps in terms of the AREA framework, providing a guide to other teams who might wish to implement a similar approach.
Teams have used other frameworks to select and improve their project goals. For example, Groningen 2017 turned to the Rathenau Institute’s iGEMers Guide to the Future at the beginning of their project, using it to map out how stakeholders’ input, users’ outstanding needs and their own values should inform their choice of project. (They finally decided to work on a bacteriophages detection system for the dairy industry.)
Education and Public Engagement
There have been many strong Education and Public Engagement projects with diverse approaches. Here are just a few examples, each excellent and each quite different. The common theme is that the teams went to great care and effort to include more people in the discussion of their projects and overall work in synthetic biology. They did this by providing those unfamiliar with the topic with the necessary tools, knowledge, and opportunities to engage in a two-way (or multi-way) conversation about synthetic biology and their particular project application. Importantly, teams also showed how their perspectives and practices were altered through those interactions.
Enabling equal opportunity in scientific practice
Several teams have focused their Education and Public Engagement efforts on enabling equal opportunity in scientific practice.
The 2018 Marburg team (Grand Prize, Overgrad) engaged with visually-impaired high school students, learning how to express scientific concepts in an more equitable and accessible way. They built off the work of the 2014 Marburg team, who addressed social injustice issues and epistemological questions through work with visually-impaired students, which led to the team developing teaching and analysis techniques based on audio rather than visual information.
The Georgia State University 2017 team ( Chairman’s Award) interacted with hearing impaired students and professionals, seeking greater understanding of how such students experience the laboratory and communicate. The team then integrated these lessons into their lab practice, exploring and implementing protocols to make their lab more accessible to all students. These efforts included developing new sign language for the hearing impaired to discuss synthetic biology. They were awarded the Chairman’s Award, delivered each year to the team that best exemplifies iGEM values.
Paris Bettencourt 2013 (Grand Prize, Overgard) conducted a study investigating gender representation in synthetic biology labs, conferences and publications and at iGEM, and they analyzed what their results might mean for future efforts to promote gender equality in science. This work inspired many other analyses of equity within iGEM (for example, UAlberta 2018) and contributed to the formation of the iGEM Diversity Committee.
Developing new educational tools and standards
Several teams have developed and tested new educational curricula and tools for different levels of experience, and some have built upon their work in successive years.
SUIS Shanghai 2018 (Best Education and Public Engagement, High School) surveyed life science educators around the world to learn how synthetic biology and engineering concepts were taught. The team interviewed a biodesign curriculum expert to develop an initial survey design, then iteratively improved it using literature review, conversations with school administrators, and results from small draft surveys. The team used the survey to identify where educators need additional resources, then developed lesson plans and an interactive flowchart to help educators connect engineering and design principles to parts of international curricula such as AP and IB.
William and Mary is a team that has taken a notably rigorous approach over the years. The 2015 William and Mary (Grand Prize, Undergrad; Best Education and Public Engagement, Undergrad) team held workshops for elementary and high school students, teachers and parents to learn more about participants’ understanding, concerns and hopes for synthetic biology. The team then developed activities and kits based on workshop feedback. The team produced a booklet outlining the procedure, background information, materials and cost for 24 activities, along with critical learning questions and goals. They kept the activities low-cost, based on materials readily available, easily taught by teachers with limited biology education, and adaptable for students of any age or educational background. In 2017, the William and Mary team (1st Runner Up, Grand Prize, Undergrad) created a database of all iGEM outreach projects so that future iGEM team could learn from and build upon past efforts and develop ways to test their effectiveness.
EPFL 2017 (Best Education and Public Engagement, Undergrad) built an educational cell-free expression toolkit for high school classrooms to enable more widespread opportunities to engage in synthetic biology. The team took steps to ensure that they were building a toolkit that was safe and appropriate to the task, first checking with EPFL’s biosafety department to make sure that the kit complied with national safety regulations, then testing their kit with local high school classrooms. The team revised their kit design based on teacher feedback. They are currently working with a high school to develop a kit appropriate for their advanced biology curricula, expanding the kit’s capabilities to fit the teachers’ specifications.
Creatively illustrating the use and impacts of synthetic biology
Some teams have communicated the use and practice of synthetic biology through creative work. Often these creative explorations also informed their integrated HP work, and, indeed, such explorations can count towards the Gold Medal criteria.
The Montpellier 2018 team (Best Education and Public Engagement, Overgrad) recognized that their project—use of the vaginal microbiota for contraception—concerned an aspect of society that is taboo in certain cultures and communities. They collaborated with non-scientific artists to help bridge the gap between the team and the broader community, presenting artists with a series of prompts (such as “what is a vaginal ‘flora’?”) and hosting an event with a local art association to present their responses. They also ran a public survey to uncover which parts of the project the general public would want to know more about, then worked with an art school student to produce a comic book on synthetic biology and the vaginal microbiota which directly responded to issues raised in their survey.
The 2009 Cambridge team (Grand Prize) collaborated with designers to illustrate a future application for their project: a yogurt containing biosensors that can monitor the microbiome and produce color-coded readouts. The students and designers constructed a timeline and illustration (see in video here) meant to critique the assumption that synthetic biology represents progress and to inspire debate and discuss among audiences about synthetic biology’s future applications.
ArtScienceBangolore 2010 created a “comic book” to illustrate and translate a list of synthetic biology-related terms to various members of their local community. The list arose from a series of workshops and artistic collaborations the team hosted to “investigate the consequences of a synthetic ecology, an ecology in which organisms created in a techno-scientific environment interact with organisms in the wild.” The team also created murals around their home city of Bangolore and held DNA microscopy workshops for school children, among other activities.