During our project, we participated in and organized various events to raise public awareness about the usefulness of Synthetic Biology in general and of our project in particular. Our goal was to have maximum feedback from the public on our project, and to take into account their criticism for improving it. We opened up to everybody, getting in touch with people from different generations to obtain a range of opinions since we believe that listening to the public is very important for more effective scientific research.
We organized an escape game on general biology for high school students. We have set it up in collaboration with 3rd year bachelor students in life sciences specializing in bioinformatics from the University of Evry-Val-d'Essonne. Several puzzles mixing bioinformatics and biology were set up in order to teach and learn scientific concepts in a fun way.
Online survey on fatty acids
As we were curious to know more about what people think of fatty acids, where they think they could be found, and what positive or negative effects they could bring us, we posted on our social networks a survey. About fifty people answered our survey, which allowed us to make statistics on all the answers obtained.
The answers are quite varied and many people were fatty acids connoisseurs. This is not unexpected as, compared to the people we interviewed during the vox pop sessions described above, our social network followers have mostly a scientific background.
The full analysis is available on the dedicated page on this wiki.
We created a short comic to explain synthetic biology to an audience that isn't familiar with it. Indeed, synthetic biology is a discipline that's relatively unknown to the general public, and, through this comic we are putting it forward in a fun way.
We have also included, as an example, our subject which is to produce rare fatty acids in yeast, so the public can understand that scientists aren't only working on prokaryotes but also on a diversity of organisms. The example of yeast can surprise them because it's known for culinary use, and not necessarily for fatty acid production.
This communication support choice isn't insignificant. In fact, we think that the comic can be a good way to transcribe and explain a subject to a larger audience. Moreover, this resource is starting to become quite popular in the scientific field. This can be explained by the fact that a comic is a less frightening resource than a conference paper or a newspaper article, that it can easily be manipulated and quickly read. This corresponds exactly to the new habits of today's society.
We also decided to make this comic available to other iGEM teams, allowing them initially to translate it into their own native language(s), then, in a second time, to use it to explain synthetic biology in their country as part of their Education and Public Engagement activities.
Moreover, this comic is timeless and can therefore be used by future iGEM teams. More information about this collaboration is available on the relevant page of this wiki.
Talking about today's society biological/medical concerns
Vaccination has become a current debate in France, even in the world. Since the 11 vaccines became mandatory in France, various controversies have taken place, including fears about the excessive number of vaccines, their potential side effects and their composition.
France has become the top country in the world with ideas against vaccines and a leader of anti-vax movement on social networks  that transmit several ideas like:
"There is nickel in vaccines which is bad for us."
"The government wants to make money by increasing the number of mandatory vaccines."
"Our immune system is strong enough to defeat epidemics like tetanus."
"The MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine made many children autistic in 1998."
As a result, a substantial part of the population has begun to doubt vaccines and question them. They end up being afraid to vaccinate their children, decreasing the immunization coverage in turn. The direct impact of this decline in immunization coverage is the resurgence of epidemics such as measles, resulting in several deaths worldwide.
We therefore decided to raise public awareness about vaccination in order to answer their potential doubts about vaccines.
Reaching to children
We wanted to reach the young generation and discuss scientific aspects that will have a direct impact on themselves, their parents and future generations ...
For this, we went to the elementary school "La Jeannotte" elementary school in Mennecy (France) and worked a whole afternoon with 7 and 9 years old children in the second and fourth grade. The main purpose of this meeting was to collect their own vision on viruses and vaccines.
We organized various workshops of about thirty minutes each, all related to the vaccines:
The board game
The goal is to make children understand the vaccines impact and the consequences if many people around us aren't vaccinated, especially for those who are not vaccinated. Children understood the need to get vaccinated and make the reminders, in order to avoid getting sick and to protect the population.
We asked each child to draw a bacterium/microbe to see what they think of bacteria, and how they see them. Then we discussed each drawing, then drew a fictional bacterium's model and showed real bacterial images observed under the electron microscope, so that they have a glimpse of the difference between their imagination and reality.
Subsequently, we asked them to redraw a bacterium, after our explanations, to see the impact of our discussions on them, and whether they understood that a bacterium can take different forms.
The hangman's principle will be to get a word drawn from the child. The child who will pick, will have to guess the word to his friends who will have to give letters to find the word. Once the word is discovered the game ends and a question will be asked to the children:
'Does any of you know the meaning of this word or have an idea of what it means?'
Depending on the answers, we complete the description with small information.
This game allowed them to discover and understand the vocabulary about vaccines in a fun way.
The role play
We separated children into 2 groups, where one of the team would play the 'nasty bacteria' side and the other the 'doctor' who wants to save his patient. 'Bad bacteria' need to choose a disease, and the 'Good doctor' needs to find a way to fight it. Each child must create a story based on the illness or the means of healing they choose.
At each end of the turn, kids and us, pointing to the best story and the side that won, could move forward one square. The first team to reach the final goal: 'the patient dies' or 'the patient has been cured' won. The benefit is that we've worked their imaginations while teaching them science, understanding how to catch diseases and how to cure them.
The journey log
This notebook is important because it will leave a trace of our passage, while amusing the child. In the notebook, there is a drawing space for the drawing activity explained previously. There are mini-games like a labyrinth, a half-word and coloring adapted to their level. This notebook followed the child throughout the session and he can take it home to show his parents what he has learned that day.
Debate on vaccines
For this event, we have prepared the setting up of a full public debate on vaccination, in order to understand everyone's opinion, and that everyone can express, give their opinion or even change or evolve their vision of vaccines.
We are organizing this event in collaboration with the future iGEM Evry Paris-Saclay 2020 team. We have made all preparations for the 2020 team to take over the torch by exchanging with us and give them some advice for their future project.
We have invited the immunology Professor Sylvain Fisson and plan to invite a doctor, so they can bring scientific answers to the public and be objective.
We prepared a paper to distribute for each person, so they can mark and then give us questions that they would not dare to ask, or propose interesting questions during a debate.
All slides, plan and presentation are ready so we can complete the event with the next iGEM team.
The Science Festival
The Science Festival ('Fête de la Science') is a five-day event in France. Each year, it mobilizes teachers, researchers, students and associations. Animations are set up to share the scientific knowledge with as many people as possible. During these 5 main days, conferences, workshops, laboratory visits, stands and shows are available to the general public. This year, we participated in the Science Festival on Friday October 11th and Saturday October 12th 2019 at University Paris-Saclay / University of Evry-Val-d'Essonne. This led us to set up various workshops, including two which involved experiments.
Red cabbage pigments will give you colors
This experiment is based on the red cabbage's pigments ability to change color depending on the medium's acidity. People had to make a vinegar solution, another one from baking soda, and a third one just tap water. By crushing the red cabbage's pieces, they were able to recover pigments from it and put it in each solution. Color of each solution varies as follows:
→ vinegar solution becomes pink because it's acidic.
→ baking soda solution turns green because it's basic.
→ the tap water turns blue because it's often slightly basic.
To add a little fancy, we put baking soda in the pink solution: it started to foam and then ended up taking a violet color. And one can alternate colours by putting baking soda, then vinegar, then baking soda again, etc.
Come with us to extract banana DNA
Fruit DNA extraction often intrigues and amuses manipulators. In particular, it highlights the fact that DNA, the fruit's genetic information is contained in their cells, because the fruit has to be crushed to extract it.
Draw me a yeast
A drawing workshop was organized to obtain different public views on our project. We asked them to draw us, how they would see a yeast producing fatty acids or bacteria. After they drew, we gave them the comic, explaining how our yeast Yarrowia lipolytica can produce the rare fatty acids of the seeds of pomegranate. Thus, our comic had a direct impact on everyone who didn't necessarily know how yeast could produce these fatty acids. In addition, the fact that they can take the comic with them, allows them to keep a written record, and, why not, explain it to other people.
Finally, we recreated a pixelated Jacaranda mimosifolia and a pomegranate with all drawing.
Bacteria around us
This workshop consists of exposing petri dishes on which we spread samples of different media to prove that bacteria are everywhere around us and that we cannot avoid them.
Our environment is very rich in bacteria. To allow the public to see that there are different bacteria's types and that they may be differently visible depending on their anatomy, we performed GRAM Color in the laboratories of the University of Evry-Val-d'Essonne, we took photos through the microscope and display them during the Science Festival.
Art is alive
'Art is like nature, it is always beautiful.' George Sand
... and can be made with everything, including micro-organisms.
We have recovered 3 biobricks from the iGEM Registry of Standard Biological Parts:
BBa_K274002: Vio operon that leads to the production of a purple pigment (violacein) from tryptophan
BBa_J04450: RFP expression cassette under the control of pLac promoter
BBa_K2675066: sfGFP expression cassette under the control of J23110 promoter
and we made different drawings on agar plates using of colored bacteria.
We exposed them to the public so that they could see that it's possibl to make art with micro-organisms that are colored thanks to synthetic biology.
ReferencesAna Benabs. La France, pays le plus sceptique au monde face à la vaccination. France 24.com. June 19th 2019.