Science is so powerful, however, it is over-reliant on other factors such as societies’ viewpoints and policymakers. Particularly in Egypt relying on those factors was not feasible. As the public are not aware enough about Synthetic Biology and there are a lot of missing links between scientists and the government. All of that drove us to leave the lab behind for a while for the sake of raising public awareness of the things we have learned, informing policymakers so that we can make better decisions on very critical problems facing our country, engaging experts with our project and ideas with the purpose of validating the steps we are taking, combating anti-science and pseudo-scientific ideas, inspiring youth so that they pursue careers in Synthetic Biology and other scientific fields, touring Egypt from the North to the South to gather different opinions, these meetings and interviews were very fruitful, we took most of the recommendations into consideration and impeded it into our project.
We are the fourth team to participate from Egypt. Yet, when we first told our faculty professors about iGEM and synthetic biology, they had no idea what it was. This put more effort on our shoulders,Thus we became more concerned about spreading all the knowledge we learned from online MOOCs, articles, papers, and videos to the students in our faculty and to the community we are in. We also reached for school students and gave them a brief about how science is fun illustrating with simple experiments, for university students we have designed an interactive gave that allows people to be familiar with the concept of biobricks-BBa_game-
To begin with, We searched a lot to learn about the safety guidelines regulating the work with genetically engineered microorganisms and using them with the public, but unfortunately in Egypt -till now- there is no certified law in the Egyptian constitution regarding the actions taken towards genetically modified organisms but rather a drafted law presented to the Egyptian parliament waiting for approval. For that, we tried to reach for Doctors who worked on the proposed draft and contacting Dr Osama El-Gebaly, thanks to him, we could reach Dr Moustafa Fouda Minister Advisor on Biodiversity who worked in presenting the law to the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, whom approved on it. “until now in Egypt there isn’t any official law in the constitution regarding that matter,'' said Dr Mostafa, we asked him about the context of the law proposed to the parliament or if we can depend on a proxy to follow during our research work, he declared “Egypt follows the rules of Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety when dealing with genetically modified organisms” also he requested to follow all the biosafety and biosecurity rules during our work. We also discussed the techniques of synthetic biology, mainly the basic genetic circuit and specifically about the gene we used to modify the wild type halophilic yeast, he was fascinated by the idea.
He and Dr Osama El-Gebaly gave us the proposed law and made sure we knew that safety comes first
AGERI is the only one of its type found in the middle east gathering lots of excellent doctors and researchers working on agricultural problems in Egypt. AGERI is the nearest to our faculty so we passed by there several times, asking scientific and technical questions. The first to ask was Dr Mohammed Hazman “researcher in plant stress”, we presented our idea: the concept of desalinating water using genetically modified plant -at that time we were thinking of Azolla-; whether to work on plant, algae or microorganism?,and which is faster to prove our concept on?
He recommended working in a wild type with the capability to accumulate a high concentration of salts, i.e. halophilic organisms. We frequently went AGERI to ask for technical questions regarding the lab work.
EDRC is one of the biggest water research centers in Egypt which is specialized in desalination research only. A huge group of professors and doctors are hardly working in solving deslaniation problems, making plans to build new desalination plants in different areas all over Egypt in order to provide those places with source of water. For our visit we aimed to view the techniques upon which the RO and Thermal distillation processes operate, also we sought advice hearing more from technical support and experts there.
We talked with Dr Hossam Shawky, EDRC Director, water desalination & water quality expert,also met with Dr Mostafa Abou El-Fadl, professor in water chemistry. When doctor Mostafa first heard about the project he was so happy and proud of us, saying” This will be great and if the efficiency reached 50-70% this will make your project a success”
and finally Dr Dalia ElSayed Abozaid,Dr Dalia is specialized in Economy, we discussed with her about the general cost of desalination in Egypt
NRC is one of the most credible institutes of research in our country, there we reached for Dr Enas Abou Taleb, who listened to our idea where she was very enthusiastic about it and how Egypt will benefit from it. At NRC we also with Dr Aml SaadEldin, the head of water research, she heard our idea which got her attention, and if we could make into reality how it will have a good impact in the society, we also meet Dr Ebtsam Abdelrashed researcher in molecular biology who was the most interested she gave us a lot of technical advice regarding the plan of our work, steps after sequencing to be taken.
We knew that our project had a huge economical impact on the country, so we decided to go and talk with companies and people who are more familiar with the industrial field. We first attended the Waterx expo conferences which hosted various water companies then we went to Giza Systems.
Life from water is a non profit organization, which provides isolated and water-scarce villages with water resources, those villages in egypt have no clear and fresh water; either because this water is polluted can’t be drank or it contains a huge amount of TDS, so life from water depends mainly on water desalination and distribute the product to places in need for it.
We were curious about a lot of things, how they perform desalination, to what extent can the membrane able to tolerate with salts, what they would think of our idea and genetic engineering as general, how could we make our system easy to be used by people in the villages. So, We contacted Engineer Mohamed Fathi.
We then demonstrated the idea to him and asked about his opinion, he suggested to make the system as pre-treatment and to make it easy to be operated as the people who aren’t experts could work with it, he also suggested to integrate the clay filter, a very small scale filter which is being developed by them currently, with them. So that, the clay filter could be able to filter the water from bacteria using nanofiller, and purify it from salts using a filter on which the microorganism we use supported on.
Two of our team members, Mariam and Youssef, attended the 61st Cairo Climate Talk that brings experts from Egypt and Germany on climate change,
environmental journalism, and social media in order to share their expertise.
The real human practices, is when you reach for the people, in a project designated for them. We have done our best to get the full media coverage beginning with public Radio, Tv channels as well as Public Journals. The interviewers asked us several questions that we believe they were pro-founded from public concern when they heard about our project, in those interviews we exceled to demonstrate every detail, what is synthetic biology, and how it differs from biotechnology and genetic engineering, why particularly are we choosing to participate in iGEM. We also illustrated the main idea of our project and more importantly the problem we are trying to solve and how it took us a very long way to reach this point.