Team:Exeter/Human Practices

Human Practices


The Plastic Problem

Plastic has been ubiquitous in society since its invention in the 1930s. It is now used in every area of human existence from construction to electronics, packaging to transport. In 2012 the plastics industry accounted for more than 1.4 million jobs in over 62,000 companies across the European Union 1. Plastics are incredibly useful, with varying properties that make them suitable for a large range of situations. However, the scale of their use has led to huge environmental damage and wildlife harm; especially as they break down into smaller and smaller pieces.
Microplastics are microscopic plastic fragments less than 5μm in length 2 , that are invisible to the human eye. It has been estimated that a total of 15 – 51 trillion microplastic particles have accumulated in the ocean 3. Some originate as large plastic pieces and are slowly eroded by the water, whilst others start off as microplastics specifically produced for certain uses, such as microbeads in cosmetic products. Microbeads are stable and versatile particulates but once they have been washed down the drain, they have been found to be too small for most filtration systems at water treatment works to capture, and so end up being discharged into the oceans. This has resulted in over 80% of drinking water to contain microplastics 4, with humans predicted to consume 5g of plastic every week 5.

The Fashion Industry and the Microplastic Problem

Despite their constant media coverage, neither microbeads, straws or plastic bottles are the largest source of microplastic pollution on the planet. The top spot is actually taken by our clothes, with 35% of all microplastic pollution originating from laundry. Polyester has been a feature of our wardrobes since 1951, and since that point has rapidly expanded to become our dominant fiber. By 2025 it is predicted that we will produce 90.5 million tonnes annually. It has been estimated by Tecnon Orbichem, a chemical data company, that more than 98% of future fiber production will be synthetics, and 95% of that synthetic fiber will be polyester6. The most common variety is of polyester is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. We are wearing plastic.

So what is the solution to this? Do we just avoid buying synthetic clothing and opt for cotton as much as possible? This is an idealistic solution but in reality it’s not that easy. Polyester is everywhere. It is cheaper and more widely available than cotton, and in a lot of cases is more appropriate. The lightweight, quick to dry, easily-washable qualities of polyester make it the best option for sports and outdoor activities clothing. In fact, the team jumpers we bought for the iGEM conference are made of polyester. Despite having done a project on reducing microplastics, we could not even avoid it ourselves. You can walk into almost any high street shop and find polyester clothing for a fraction of the price of natural fibres. In reality, there are no viable alternatives on the market right now. While there is widespread pressure on the use of plastic bottles, straws and bags, nobody is trying to change the use of polyester because there are no affordable alternatives.
The best way to tackle this problem currently is to not stop polyester clothing production, as we have no viable alternatives, but to come up with a solution that prevents the fibres from reaching our oceans and our drinking water. We do not yet know the effects of microplastics on human health but we know that they are damaging our marine ecosystems, something our planet and all of its species rely on.

The Effects of Microplastics

Animals can become entangled in large pieces of plastic, causing physical distress and even death, but another problem is marine wildlife mistaking micro and nanoplastics for food. High profile microplastic researchers including Dr Ceri Lewis, Professor Tamara Galloway OBE and Dr Matthew Cole from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory have researched the adverse effects of microplastic ingestion on marine life. Meetings and conversations with academics in the field have greatly developed our understanding of the effects microplastics have on the Earth's ecosystems and marine life, driving us to find a solution. Plastic is inert so it is hard to find an acute toxicity. However, once ingested, they have chronic sub-lethal effects. The particles block the gut and cause physical injuries, changes to oxygen levels in cells in the body, altered feeding behaviour and reduced energy levels, therefore impacting growth and reproduction. Reducing energy production has an especially profound impact on smaller marine species, microfibres impact immune function producing oxidative stress inflammation in many animals.
The researchers also expressed their concerns about how microplastics are approached in the mainstream media. There is an increasing level of press about their toxicity levels because they adsorb and concentrate chemicals present in the environment. These plastic absorbing chemicals are bioaccumlative meaning that they do cause significant problems to non-marine life due to the food chain.

What Can We Do?

In our conversation with Dr Ceri Lewis, who has a vast wealth of experience in the field of tackling microplastics, we discovered that she has placed a huge focus on education and changing habits of the general public. Before banning plastic completely, we need to consider what we are replacing it with. We can replace lots of types of plastic with glass or aluminium but glass as a widespread alternative has a higher carbon footprint. Aluminium could potentially be a good replacement, as we have good systems for aluminium recycling in the UK. However, these are not solutions to the plastic used in the fashion industry and we should not be replacing our plastic pollution with other kinds of potential pollution. We need to change the system and challenge the throw-away culture that has manifested in many developed and developing countries. Education and prevention is key. Our project, PETexe, focuses on both education that aims to develop responsible science and challenge plastic-consuming behaviour; and the prevention of the 35% of microplastic pollution that originates from the laundry of synthetic clothing7.

Human Practices

Our Process

This summer our team have been looking to tackle the problem of microplastic pollution in our oceans. Our aim was to develop an enzyme-based microplastic filter that can be integrated into washing machines. The filter will trap and degrade plastic fibres that are released when synthetic clothes are washed.
To better understand the issues that might influence or affect the development of our research, we placed emphasis on the importance of the social and environmental context of the project (Human Practices). We aimed to integrate social science and the governance of science, technology and innovation to gain a better understanding of how our research would be received in society, industry and the wider science community. We have found this part of the project to be incredibly beneficial to us as scientists, to put our research into a more comprehensive context and to think deeply about whether it is beneficial to the world. It has also helped us to analyse societal pressures and influences on science in general; and as such we have found it an interesting and integral part of our research. We have found that a strong relationship between science and society is integral to forming a responsible project, and this relationship is strongest when the impacts of innovation are considered at the very start of the project.

The AREA Framework

From the very early stages of our project, we have used well-established frameworks in order to ensure that we are carrying out considered and responsible science at every step in the process. The AREA Framework for Responsible Innovation, created by Professor Richard Owen 1 “seeks to promote creativity and opportunities for science and innovation that are socially desirable and undertaken in the public interest” 2 and is used by many research councils to encourage a responsible approach to innovation.
Click each section of the cycle to find out more.


The EDP Cycle

The AREA framework looks to develop responsible innovation, and a similar framework is used in all kinds of industry. As we have a multidisciplinary team including engineers and physicists this year, it has been emphasised that design cycles are a crucial part of new technology development. A framework used by engineers, including development and testing at NASA, is the Engineering Design Process (EDP) cycle. The cycle consists of 6 elements.
Click each section of the cycle to find out more.


The creation of effective and successful technologies is dependent on iterative cycles like these. We felt that as these processes are crucial within industry, they would also be beneficial constructs to follow during our iGEM project. We have gone through many iterations in the design process of our microfibre filter, as well as in the exploration and development of our project focus. At each stage of the process we have consulted experts to get their feedback and then designed a new approach informed by their comments. The changes were then integrated and tested, and then we sought further feedback from experts and stakeholders and the cycle restarted. For examples of how we integrated both of these iterative cycles into each stage of our project, see our Integrated Human Practices and Engineering pages.

Our Experience

An essential part of human practices for our team was reflecting on our research project as a whole as well as broken down into its constituent parts. We considered the feedback we received from companies, government officials, academics and the general public; assessing how each of these groups responded to our product and how that affected the nature of our design or how we proceeded, either consciously or subconsciously.
After the first three weeks of the project, in which we had contacted stakeholders introducing our initial thoughts and ideas, we sat down with Dr Sarah Hartley from the University of Exeter Business School to discuss our current progress. She suggested that we reflect closely on the responsibility of this problem and how each stakeholder we spoke to responded subtly influenced the concept of who was responsible for the issue of microplastic pollution.
As a team we reflected on this concept ourselves, coming to the conclusion that full responsibility could not be put on one societal group alone, but that it was in fact a systematic problem that could not be solved without the integration of all societal groups. This scale of problem requires the influence of government, the action of business, the expertise of academics and experts, and finally the acceptance, understanding and support of the general public.

Throughout the project up until this meeting, we realised that as a group of ten multidisciplinary STEM students we had not even considered the idea that the product we made would subtly hand responsibility over to a certain societal group. We were only looking for feedback on our initial idea from a feasibility and scientific perspective. We realised that we hadn’t targeted the microplastic issue from their original source: the large manufacturing systems where most of these microplastic fibres originate through the production of synthetic clothing. So why is this? If the aim of our project was to tackle the problem of microplastics from synthetic clothing, why did we not go straight to the source?
We started to consider the feedback we had received from stakeholders and our response to it. Most of the representatives from larger industry were excited by the idea of a microplastics filter but not initially persuaded by the idea of integrating it into their manufacturing processes, either into a product or at an industrial plant. They encouraged us to design external solutions that would be bought by the general public as a separate unit. This pushed the responsibility of tackling this problem down the chain onto the consumer, as their suggestions resulted in an external filter design for household washing machines. This left the responsibility of the microplastics produced by washing synthetic clothing to the consumer. Making the consumer solely responsible was not our initial intention but subconsciously, through interactions with stakeholders, it became a reality for our final product design. We realised that a filter that could be used in households was the most feasible for our iGEM project but were faced with the question of why we had ended up at this point and what had driven us there. Our final project will not solve the microplastic problem, so how were we subtly guided towards a softer solution that places the blame on the wrong people?

These questions prompted us as a team to start considering closely the responsibility of each societal group, thinking about the pros and cons of their sole responsibility, areas where they should be responsible and may have shifted the blame, and what they could each contribute to solving this issue.


We considered the areas of influence and responsibility for each societal group, and in the table below we detail how each group is responsible for the microplastic issue and what they could contribute to solving it. We then go through the pros and cons of them taking full responsibility.

  • The Government holds the power to regulate industry
  • Can provide incentives for business to meet environmental targets
  • Controls the National Education Curriculum so can emphasis the importance of RRI from within the education system
  • Can regulate washing machine companies and manufacturers to introduce microplastic filters
  • Pros:
    - Wide scale enforcement
    - Tackles the problem at the source
    - Same regulations for everyone
  • Cons:
    - Potential backlash from companies
    - Where will the money come from to subsidise filters?
  • Key industries that produce a high percentage of the market volume of goods influence most of the goods bought within certain sectors
  • Can integrate environmental and sustainable solutions into technology and their business initially - easier to enact change at the start than midway through the process
  • Businesses should reflect public opinion. With an increasing proportion of the population caring about climate change, consumables should reflect that.
  • Pros:
    - Large-scale change within industry would significantly affect the market
    - Sustainable choices will improve public perception of brand image
    - Increase the likelihood of other washing machine companies integrating a filter
  • Cons:
    - Potential loss of profits
    - Large initial investment needed
    - Need a large proportion of industry to take part otherwise limited effects
  • Academics are responsible for integrating social scientists into scientific research institutions to increase the impact of responsible research and innovation
  • Can introduce social science and responsible research modules into University programs to equip students with the correct skills to develop impactful, relevant research
  • Can introduce the concept of RRI at a younger age to bring awareness before students join research groups
  • Pros:
    - Teaches future generation to integrate business and science
    - Encourages interdisciplinary solutions to real-world problems
  • Cons:
    - Takes a long time to enforce industry-wide change
    - Requires systematic shift in education to emphasise preparing STEM students for research in industry
    - Has to tackle the stigma within STEM surrounding social sciences
  • The consumer has a huge influence on company policies through societal pressure and consumer purchase habits
  • Can reduce the number of synthetic clothing items they purchase and choose to source sustainable alternatives
  • Can make the choice to fit a microplastic filter as an external unit to their own washing machines that don't have an integrated one
  • Can get involved in petitions, protests and placing pressure on businesses and governments to take environmental and sustainable choices
  • Pros:
    - Consumer behaviour has a large impact of business and government as it is a consumer driven market
    - Increased worldwide involvement in solving environmental issues
    - Further viewpoints and opinions added to the discussion
  • Cons:
    - Sustainable alternatives are usually more expensive and less widely available
    - Requires widespread societal change to influence consumer behaviour

After tracking the responsibility for each group we realised that it was implausible to expect the microplastic problem to be solved by a single group alone. There has to be interconnection between all four groups to encourage systematic change and each group has to be willing, honest and motivated to make these changes. Each group has a specific area of influence and can take responsibility for different aspects of the soltuion. As a team we documented how we felt about this issue through the form of a think piece that has been submitted to an academic journal, pending reviewal. We believe that creating a constructive opinion piece, that other academics and industry partners can read, will encourage further reflection on the concept of responsible science and innovation.

We submitted our think piece to the science and society section of the EMBO reports journal. EMBO reports is a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering research related to biology at a molecular level. It publishes primary research papers, reviews, and essays and opinion. It also features commentaries on the social impact of advances in the life sciences and the converse influence of society on science. We therefore thought it would be appropriate to submit our think piece to the science and society section as our piece is a reflection on how to responsibly and successfully get scientific solutions into society.

Our think piece speculates about the responsibility of our project and the responsibility within scientific advancement, and can be found below.

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One reason that we feel like we may have been channeled into creating a product that does not target the full extent of the microplastic problem is the lack of social science understanding in the scientific community. Learning to analyse societal pressures, and motivations of different industries would have equipped us to be able to see through the actions of our stakeholders, and be able to push for a move comprehensive solution. Because of this, the outreach and public engagement aspect of our project has been focused on the promotion of responsible science and the integration of social and natural sciences. See our Outreach page to find out how we have implemented what we observed!

Ethics and Responsible Research

We provided our participants with an information sheet on how their data would be used, and a consent form, as displayed below. We anonymised their responses, which you can see on our Integrated Human Practices page.

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Integrated Human Practices

Microplastics are released at every stage in the fashion industry. The sourcing, production, use, washing, recycling and disposal of fabrics all contribute to this global issue in a cycle in which each individual component can appear hard to tackle. To understand the broader picture of how all of this comes together, we have consulted experts in four main sectors: the government, industry, academics and consumers. Each of these groups uniquely contribute to the microplastics problem, but each of them also has a unique viewpoint on how it can be solved. Their analysis and feedback helped us streamline our solution into one that would be both feasible and easily integrated into each of these existing sectors. PETexe is community-driven at every stage of the process, bringing together all areas of society to contribute to a solution that will take all areas of society to fix.

  • The government has already launched research into microplastics and put in place regulations to combat the microplastic problem, so we contacted them to understand their motivations behind these and to discuss other ways they might consider tackling microplastics.
  • We reached out to high-end fashion brands, washing machine companies and filter companies in order to utilise their professional experience in these relevant industries and get their perspectives on how we could integrate microplastic-capturing systems into these existing industries.
  • In order to consider the regulations and feasibility surrounding each of the components of our project, we spoke to leading academics in each field that would be able to guide our design towards something feasible yet ambitious. Their advice and guidance shaped our project at each step.
  • As the general public will be the final users of our product, we had to explore how it would most benefit them. We sought their feedback on the idea of microplastic filters in household washing machines, and on tackling microplastics in general, to learn how we could bridge the gap between science and society.

One of the most important parts of Human Practices is the continual integration of feedback into the project's development. The development of most research occurs iteratively, therefore using the AREA framework explained in the Introduction to our Human Practices, we constructed a method for optimising the feedback we received when in contact with the government, industry representatives, academics and the general publics. This method used the four steps of the AREA framework as a guide for how we focused our conversations, and is shown in the diagram below.

  • April

    Bootcamp Week

    Description: We spent the first week of Easter learning about the ins and outs of synthetic biology and the iGEM competition. Our team is very multidisciplinary, consisting of physicists, engineers, natural scientists, biologists and computer scientists; so this week was instrumental in getting us all up to speed.

    Contribution: We discussed what a good project would look like with respect to both the science and the Human Practices, and started brainstorming initial ideas. Meetings with our supervisors and academics from different departments in the university helped us shape our ideas and understand how to choose and develop a good project idea.

    Adjustments: We came up with a few good ideas for projects and started to research how they could be carried out, thinking about each section of the project in turn.

    Our Next Steps: We now need to start fully brainstorming lots of ideas and weigh up each one based on what we have learnt this week. This criteria includes feasibility, relevance and whether the project is interesting!

  • June


    Description: We spent the first week of our summer brainstorming ideas and looking into the feasibility of each one. This then helped us to narrow down our ideas by focusing both on our own interests, problems in the local area, and how these could potentially affect the wider world too. We eventually settled on three ideas, which were to do with clothing dyes, clean meats and microplastics.

    Contribution: We presented our three main ideas to academics and other experts in the field, who offered invaluable advice and feedback on each idea. They thought the microplastics project was the most developed and therefore may be easiest.

    Adjustments: We held a vote within our team and decided based on the advice we had received, to pursue a project based around degrading microplastics that enter the water system through the washing of synthetic fabrics.

    Our Next Steps: We now have to start researching microplastic degradation by the PETase and MHETase enzymes. There are some academics at the University who specialise in microplastic pollution, so we need to contact them to see whether they think our project ideas are feasible.

  • 20th June

    Professor Tamara Galloway OBE

    Professor of Ecotoxicology

    Description: Professor Tamara Galloway OBE is a Professor of Ecotoxicology at the University of Exeter. Her research focus is on marine pollution, the sustainable development of innovative materials and the hazardous health effects of pollutants on humans. She is a leader in the field of microplastics, and her team have won numerous national awards for their research, as well as supporting the UK ban to prevent microplastics being used in cosmetics.

    Contribution: We reached out to Professor Galloway with our idea to hear her thoughts on it. We inquired how she thought it would be best to achieve the degradation of the fibres, and whether she thought an enzyme-containing clothing detergent would be a good solution. She expressed that the idea of breaking down microfibres at the source was a good idea but worried that if contained in a detergent, the enzymes may be harder to control and therefore may end up breaking down the clothes being washed as well as the microfibres coming off them.

    Adjustments: We decided to change the focus of our project from looking at enzyme-containing biological detergents; to the possibility of containing them in a more enclosed system such as a filter or beads that may eliminate the concern that the enzymes would degrade clothes as well as loose microfibres.

    Our Next Steps: We have decided to start researching alternative ways we can enclose our enzymes. We need to look into filtration systems and beads, and any other possibilities. We therefore need to talk to engineers and biologists to determine whether an enzyme-based filtration system would be feasible.

  • 21st June

    Dr Matthew Cole

    Plymouth Marine Laboratory Research Scientist

    Description: Dr Matthew Cole is a research scientist based at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. His focus is on the research of how both pollution and human activity can influence and affect the marine environment. He is currently part of the Microplastic Research Group, investigating how plastic pollution impacts marine biota and ecosystems. His knowledge and expertise on this area encouraged us to get into contact with him, to ask for his advice.

    Contribution: Dr Cole agreed with Professor Galloway in that enzymes in a detergent would be difficult to control. He liked our idea of capturing the bacteria in a filter, but also gave us some questions to think about with regards to its safety, and longevity.

    Adjustments: We decided to completely discard the detergent idea, and to focus on a filter system. We also started considering how we could design the filter in order to make it fully secure while being efficient.

    Our Next Steps: A filter system seems to be more plausible, so having disregarded the bead design, we have decided to start researching filter designs that would adequately enclose our enzymes. We now need to see if there are any pre-existing microplastic filters on the market, to see if this is a feasible idea that has potentially already been looked into.

  • 26th June

    Environmental Enhancements

    Producer of the Lint LUV-r Filter

    Description: Environmental Enhancements is a company that produces the Lint LUV-r filter that can be attached to household plumbing to trap lint and microplastics, stopping them from entering into the water systems and our oceans. We thought feedback from Environmental Enhancements would be constructive for the production of our microplastics filter for washing machines, as well as advice on how feasible our idea sounded to a company already pursuing this avenue of research and development.

    Contribution: Environmental Enhancements said “it sounds like you are exploring a new avenue that may be very effective”, which suggested to us that that our idea for an integrated enzyme based filter in washing machines is a feasible one. However it was also said that “educating the government and public will likely be your greatest challenge”, which was useful to inform the direction of our outreach.

    Adjustments: As a result of this feedback, we decided to focus part of our outreach efforts on educating government officials and influencing policy surrounding microplastics and the regulation of microplastics entering our water systems. We also aimed to investigate successful methods for educational outreach for the general public, possinly including informing the general public of our project through leaflets, social media and workshops.

    Our Next Steps: Having decided to place an emphasis on educating the public about microplastics and our solution, we need to now research effective ways to do this. We will contact people who already have experience in this field to give us advice.

  • 26th June

    Dr Kevin Esvelt

    Assistant Professor at the MIT Media Lab

    Description: Dr. Kevin M. Esvelt is an assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, leading the Sculpting Evolution Group. He investigates ecological and evolutionary engineering, and helped to pioneer the development of a method of genome engineering, CRISPR. He also co-developed the phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE) system, which is a way of enabling continuous directed evolution of gene-encoded molecules which are able to be related to the production of proteins in E.Coli. We wanted to contact Dr. Esvelt to find out whether it would be viable to use PACE to improve the PETase and MHETase enzymes within our system.

    Contribution: Dr Esvelt assured us that PACE could work for our system, but only under certain conditions. He suggested researching to see if there was a strong subject-specific promoter, as well as other logistical questions that would impact the technique heavily. He also suggested starting with the non-continuous version (PANCE).

    Adjustments: We began to investigate both PACE and PANCE as a method to improve the PETase and MHETase enzymes, focusing on the questions he provided us with.

    Our Next Steps: Although Dr Esvelt said that PACE and PANCE would be possible techniques for us to use to improve PETase and MHETase, we now need to conduct more research to see if there is a strong subject-specific promoter. We also need to talk to our supervisors to see if the technique is possible within the fairly short scope of the project.

  • 27th June

    Blue Planet Society

    Environmental Group

    Description: Blue Planet Society is a self-funded group that campaign to end the overexploitation of the world’s oceans. We thought it would be useful to talk to a company that looked at the overall protection of the marine environment and does not have a specific focus on microplastics to give us a greater understanding of the wider environmental picture.

    Contribution: Blue Planet Society said that although 35% of microplastic pollution originates from laundry, “it certainly doesn’t get 35% of the plastic pollution awareness traffic. In our experience, out of sight is out of mind when it comes to marine plastic pollution”.

    Adjustments: These comments informed our human practices and encouraged us to change our environmental outreach to bring more awareness to microplastics in general, especially with regards to their effect on marine ecosystems.

    Our Next Steps: We have decided to contact more organisations and climate-focused groups like this one to ask for their advice on reaching audiences to raise awareness about these sorts of issues.

  • 28th June

    Wexco Environmental

    Wastewater Treatment Product Manufacturer

    Description: Wexco Environmental is a wastewater treatment product manufacturer with a focus on innovation. They sell a number of different water treatment products, including the Filtrol 160. This is a water filter that can be attached onto the top of a washing machine, to catch non-degradable fibres before they enter pipes. The purpose of contacting Wexco was to get a better understanding of their filter design and speak to them about our design idea.

    Contribution: Wexco Environmental encouraged us that “the idea of degrading them in the wash is totally worth pursuing.” However, they did warn us about not fully degrading the fibres, and would be concerned “if the degradation process makes the fibers smaller or breaks them apart but doesn’t totally degrade them. This would make the filtration process more difficult and could magnify the issue.”

    Adjustments: We realised we had to specifically design our filter with complete degradation in mind, ensuring that the microplastics spend long enough in the enzyme solution to fully degrade instead of just half degrade, which would cause a larger problem.

    Our Next Steps: We have decided to contact engineers at the university for advice on designing this type of filter. We need to make sure we do it properly, otherwise we will only be adding to the problem by degrading microplastics into nanoplastics.

  • 3rd July

    Environmental Agency

    Description: We contacted a non-government engineering environmental organisation that develops technology to extract plastic pollution from the oceans. We contacted them to discuss ways to spread awareness about the effects of microplastics on the environment and develop our team's outreach strategy.

    Contribution: They provided us with many ideas on how we could reach different areas of society, including schools, companies and experts. They advised us to make the most of the power of social media as well as more traditional outreach methods.

    Adjustments: All of their suggestions were very insightful and creative, and we decided to take them on board and design our outreach and awareness campaigns using some of their ideas. We decided to create a Facebook page where we could document our findings and spread them to lots of people over the Internet.

    Our Next Steps: Now that the outreach aspect of our project is more fleshed out, we need to better consider the Human Practices side of the project. We are going to contact social scientists to see if we can get their perspective on making the project more responsible and impactful.

  • 4th July

    Professor Nicholas Harmer

    Biochemist and Protein Scientist

    Description: Professor Harmer is a biochemist and protein scientist at the University of Exeter whose main interest is in understanding the biology of pathogens. His research focuses on understanding how proteins contribute to the virulence of pathogens at a molecular level. We contacted him to find ways to modify and improve our proteins, as our supervisors have decided that PACE is not a feasible technique for a 10 week project.

    Contribution: We have considered two main alternatives to PACE: rational design and ancestral reconstruction. Professor Harmer advised us that it would most likely be better to use ancestral reconstruction instead of rational design due to the fact that rational design is a much more complex process. He also cautioned us against using only one technique in case it doesn't work.

    Adjustments: We decided to discard rational design as a technique to improve our enzymes, and to focus more on ancestral reconstruction. We also decided to broaden our project to wider than one technique in case one does not produce the results we are hoping for.

    Our Next Steps: We need to find out whether we can include the bacteria that produce the enzymes in the filter, or whether we can only include the enzymes themslves. We do not have an understanding of the law on this sort of thing, so advice from people who do know would be invaluable. This will inform how we proceed with the biology side of the project.

  • 4th July


    Technology Company

    Description: Xeros is a technology group whose core purpose is to protect and conserve water. They produce technologies that reduce water consumption by 80% in the field of fabrics and garments. Their Xeros Xfiltra is a filter that aims to capture up to 99% of microplastics released from clothing.

    Contribution: We asked Xeros how much PET we would be expecting to degrade per wash, and their answe of “0.3-0.5g of polyester per wash” gave us an idea of the amount of PET that would be produced in a standard wash, before running our own tests. They did warn us that “time-scale might be an issue.” They provided us with an XFiltra filter for us to use to collect microplastic samples and provide inspiration for a successful filter design.

    Adjustments: We decided to run tests to determine an accurate figure for the degradation time scale of our advanced enzymes, and compare that to the amount of polyester released per wash.

    Our Next Steps: We need to find out whether we can include the bacteria that produce the enzymes in the filter, or whether we can only include the enzymes themslves. This knowledge is also crucial for the filter design. Xeros's filter does not degrade microplastics so this is the part of the design they cannot give us advice on. We therefore need to find out as soon as possible so that we can start testing designs.

  • 5th July

    Dr David Santillo

    Honorary Research Fellow and Greenpeace Scientist

    Description: Dr David Santillo is an honorary research fellow at the University of Exeter, whose postdoctoral research looks at the nutrient pollution of the adriatic sea. Dr Santillo joined the Greenpeace Research Laboratories and now has almost 25 years of experience in environmental forensics analysis and the development of policies for environmental protection. Recently, he published an article where he tested 13 rivers in the UK and found that all of them contained microplastics.

    Contribution: With his knowledge of environmental law, Dr Santillo was extremely useful with answering our questions. He advised us that it would be “far easier from the outset of creating a product just containing the enzymes - no bacteria.” Dr Santillo suggested that in a household washing machine bacteria such as E.coli could not be present in the filter. However, E.coli could be present in a large scale in a large scale water filtration plant, as they are more likely to have scientists on-site who could monitor the system more easily.

    Adjustments: We started to research filter designs that would enable us to not have the live E.coli in the filter, only the enzymes. We also started to think about the potential of upscaling the household washing machine design to industry.

    Our Next Steps: We now aim to contact different industries as well as washing machine companies, to see if upscaling to different industries would be a feasible application of a modified version of our filter.

  • 5th July

    Miele UK

    Household Appliance and Commercial Equipment Company

    Description: Miele is a high-end household appliance and commercial equipment company, based in Germany. It has sustainable products with good environmental ratings, so we contacted their UK headquarters. We were interested in hearing their thoughts on the idea of attaching a microplastic filter to their washing machines, and whether it could be an integrated system in the future, especially with the development of smart washing machines.

    Contribution: Miele were very encouraging, with their Technical Manager saying “I think it will become more and more important to help the environment with less particles in wastewater.” Miele UK also very kindly provided us with a washing machine to run our tests on, which was key for the design and attachment of our filter, allowed for accurate flow meter testing on a household washing machine.

    Adjustments: Miele encouraged us to focus more on designing an external filter instead of one that would be integrated into the machine itself, as this could decrease the efficiency of the machine and would not be viable to be used commerically until rigorously tested, which could take years. We have started to consider what tests we could run on the washing machine to develop the most efficient microplastics filter as well as how our filter would work in a standard household.

    Our Next Steps: Now that we have got a washing machine we can run comprehensive tests on, we need to start modifying our designs to be fully compatible. We therefore need to speak with engineers who can guide us in this area. We have also invited them to come down to the University to see our filter first hand and for us to explain our idea further with them.

  • 5th July

    Mr David Pritchard

    Design Engineer

    Description: Mr David Pritchard is a member of the Energy Harvesting Department. The key area of his research is WEHT (Wearable Energy Harvesting Technologies). We wanted to talk to him to find out about the design ideas for our filter and whether the filter could be applied to a washing machine system.

    Contribution: Mr Pritchard provided useful feedback on the overall design of our filter system. When we discussed compatibility and function, he suggested the use of a sensor to release the new set of enzymes into the filter fitted to the back of the washing machine.

    Adjustments: We started designing more filters that could be fitted better to the washing machine, and could also have added functionalities to make them more fit for purpose, such as the sensor system that Mr Pritchard suggested.

    Our Next Steps: While we have ideas and guidance on the household washing machine filter, we do not have much insight on how this could be upscaled to different industries, such as the fashion or water treatment industries. We therefore need to contact them to ask what requirements a microplastic capturing filter would need to have to be applicable for them.

  • 8th July

    Dr Sarah Hartley

    Senior Lecturer in Management, Director of Postgraduate Research Students (Management Studies)

    Description: Dr Sarah Hartley is an interdisciplinary social scientist at the University of Exeter who works closely with natural scientists, engineers, regulators and policy-makers. Her research and teaching revolves around the responsible governance of science, technology and innovation as it moves from the lab to commercialisation. We were in contact with Dr Hartley to learn about human practices surrounding microplastics and our filter, and how this could further inform our understanding of the integrated human practices element of our research.

    Contribution: Dr Hartley revolutionised our Human Practices. Up to this point we had not fully considered anything beyond the science, engineering and outreach aspects of our project, but she made us realise that we “need to be reflective and really consider responsibility”. It is very important to consider deeply who this research affects and “look at the problem through a specific lens, either gender, power, economical etc”.

    Adjustments: Dr Hartley helped us take a step back and look at the bigger picture and the dynamics that are at play when trying to make any kind of environmental change. She suggested we look closer and consider where the responsibility lies when looking at the problem of plastic pollution, and where it should actually lie. This really revolutionised how we approach our Human Practices, and how we approached our interactions with people outside of our project.

    Our Next Steps: We need to consider responsibility and who benefits and who doesn't when it comes to this project. How can we make it as responsible as possible? We need to listen to people from all areas of society and consider how the implications of this project affect them.

  • 10th July

    Extinction Rebellion Talk

    Environmental Pressure Group

    Description: Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to address climate change. Extinction Rebellion Exeter hosted a talk about climate change and what we can do about it. We talked to them about our idea and whether they thought it would be helpful.

    Contribution: Extinction Rebellion encouraged us to get in contact with local and national government to lobby them to take action on the microplastic crisis.

    Adjustments: We decided to focus more on how government could play a part in tackling the climate issue. They encouraged us to contact our local government representatives, seeking town and district councillors.

    Our Next Steps: We need to contact our local government representatives and also MPs about microplastic legislation and how they can help to tackle it.

  • 11th July

    Stella McCartney

    Leading High-end British Fashion Designer

    Description: Stella McCartney is a leading high-end British fashion designer, and her brand has stores worldwide. She has a strong focus on sustainability, making it key in many of the company’s policies, and brand image. Although many of the clothing items designed are not made of synthetic materials, Stella McCartney has collections with other high profile companies which do use synthetic fabrics, such as Adidas. Due to her brand being so ethically-minded, we contacted the company to discuss the idea of upscaling the project to create a filter which could be used at the production plants of textiles and clothing.

    Contribution: Although almost all of the clothing designed by Stella McCartney are not made of synthetic materials, when we talked to a member of their sustainability team they were very supportive of helping advance sustainable fashion in the rest of the industry. When we asked about our filter design, we received positive feedback as well as constructive advice on any potential problems we may face, including investment costs and lower efficiency due to a slower drainage time. They were also supportive of the idea to contact government officials in an attempt to introduce incentives for companies to implement solutions for microplastic pollution.
    "I would definitely say it's something people are taking notice of but are a bit stuck of where to go."

    Adjustments: We decided to pursue the upscaling of our filter design to fashion production mills. We decided to contact clothing manufacturers who produce a lot of synthetic clothing to find out whether they would consider installing a filter like this into their factories.

    Our Next Steps: We decided to contact clothing manufacturers who produce more synthetic clothing to find out whether they would consider installing a filter like this into their factories, as this system may be more applicable to them.

  • 15th July

    Ralph Lauren

    Luxury American Fashion and Lifestyle Brand

    Description: Ralph Lauren is a luxury American fashion and lifestyle brand, well known for apparel, home products, accessories and fragrances. Having seen that the company recently launched their new sustainability campaign, ‘Design for Change’, we were keen to get into contact with them to discuss the idea of implementing our filter design during the production process of synthetic clothing.

    Contribution: We contacted the UK and US Heads of Innovation. consent form

    Adjustments: We started to further consider how we could model our filter up, brainstorming alternative filter designs that would allow for effective upscaling. We considered the best way to model this type of upscaling, providing us with a bank of data.

    Our Next Steps: We need to contact Government and councillors to talk to them about the possibility of providing incentives for companies looking to decrease their microplastic waste.

  • 16th July

    Extinction Rebellion Action

    Environmental Pressure Group

    Description: Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to address climate change. Extinction Rebellion Exeter was having a demonstration in Bristol so some team members went along to raise awareness about microplastic pollution and to get the general public's feedback on what we were doing.

    Contribution: We spoke to members of Extinction Rebellion and to the general public who were at the event. We found that lots of people do not understand the risks that microplastics pose, or how to reduce them in their own daily lives.

    Adjustments: We realised that the general public need to be educated about microplastics, as it is not commonly known about. People did not know that clothes were such a big contributor to the problem, so we believe that educating people about the choices they can make to reduce this form of pollution will be beneficial.

    Our Next Steps: We are going to reach out to microplastic researchers at the University of Exeter to find out how they have been trying to educate the public about microplastic waste. We want to know the facts straight from the people who are working on them, and figure out how we can best communicate them to the publics who need to hear them.

  • 19th July

    Dr Ceri Lewis

    Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology

    Description: Dr Ceri Lewis is a researcher and senior lecturer in marine biology at the University of Exeter, specifically looking at the impact of polluted ocean environments on marine life and their ecosystems. She also plays an active role in public and educational outreach, teaming up with an educational charity to get her research findings into UK and international schools. We thought Dr Lewis would be beneficial to talk to for input surrounding the effects of microplastics on marine life.

    Contribution: Dr Lewis spoke to us about the effects of microplastics on marine life and her work with outreach and spreading her research to schools internationally. She shared that the impact on marine life from microplastics is a more complicated issue than expected, and explained that it is hard to accurately portray in the mainstream media. She also detailed her involvement with education and outreach, and how she works closely with organisations to do live broadcasts of the science from her expedition locations. This also included development of school resources based on actual scientific research happening across the world.

    Adjustments: With regards to outreach and how we approach telling the public about the microplastics problem and plastic pollution in general, we have used Dr Lewis’s advice to use interactive learning that has a direct link to active research. We have decided to include this type of resource in our library workshop to engage people.

    Our Next Steps: We want to find out more about how people are tackling microplastic pollution so that we can promote relevant research to the people we meet at the workshop. There is a plastic conference at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus that we can go to to find out about what is going on in the South West.

  • 19th July

    Local Councillors Meeting

    Description: Meeting with local councillors from the town and district councils across Devon and Exeter to hear what action is being taken locally in line with declarations of climate emergency.

    Contribution: The councillors spoke to us about the influence of the consumer on big business and the difficulties town and parish councillors have with lobbying the government. They advised that we should contact more significant members of government at a higher level who have more power on a larger scale than just at the town or parish level.

    Adjustments: We decided to target lobbying and legislation at higher levels of government, to get more significant feedback on legislation and lobbying. This helped our team to gain insight into how important it is to target the right people but still listen to the perspectives and voices of all levels of government.

    Our Next Steps: We will now contact our local MPs in the Devon, Exeter and Cornwall area to hear their feedback on how our idea and environmental lobbying in general can be escalated within parliament.

  • 25th July

    Paul Johnson

    Water Treatment Engineer

    Description: We contacted an engineer who works at a water treatment plant to ask for data on their flow rates in order to investigate the feasibility of upscaling our filter into plants such as this without drastically reducing their efficiency.

    Contribution: He provided us with a wealth of information on the filtration systems already in water treatment plants, as well as logistical information such as flow rates.

    Adjustments: We started to consider how it would be possible to upscale our filter system to deal with continuous flow systems, such as sewage and water treatment plants.

    Our Next Steps: We will contact the engineers that have been helping us form our designs to see if they have any ideas on how we could adapt our model to be applicable to continuous flow systems.

  • 25th July

    Mr David Pritchard

    Design Engineer

    Description: Mr David Pritchard is a member of the Energy Harvesting Department. The key area of his research is WEHT (Wearable Energy Harvesting Technologies). We wanted to talk to him again to get his opinion on the current design ideas for our filter and whether the filter could be applied to a continuous flow system.

    Contribution: Mr Pritchard provided feedback on the overall design of our hydrocyclone washing machine filter system, as well as discussing the possibilities of being upscaled to both larger continuous and non-continuous flow systems, industries such as water treatment and fashion mills.

    Adjustments: Mr Pritchard has provided valuable input in all our design stages, giving feedback on all our designs, as well as suggesting modifications. We therefore have tweaked our designs to reflect what he has said.

    Our Next Steps: We need to model the hydrocyclone to see if it would be feasible for both washing machine systems and larger systems.

  • 26th July

    ExeMPLaR Plastics Conference

    Description: ExeMPLaR is a conference held at the University of Exeter’s Penryn campus to discuss the efforts across the south west to reduce and mitigate the effects of plastic pollution. It was attended by academics, government ministers, local councillors, activists and concerned members of the public.

    Contribution: Four members of our team attended the conference and talked to local politicians, DEFRA and academics from Exeter and the South West about the issue of plastic pollution. They gave us encouraging feedback and expressed interest in the project.

    Adjustments: We made contact with lots of influential people in the field of plastics research, and were encouraged to contact MPs to discuss the project further. We were also encouraged to look into the business side of the project, and contact people in the University about IP and patent protection for our research.

    Our Next Steps: We will contact the Innovation Centre at the University to discuss protecting our research while we consider turning this into a company. We will also contact some MPs from the South West.

  • 29th July

    UK iGEM Meetup


    Description: Four members of the team went to the UK iGEM Meetup in Newcastle to meet the other UK teams, discuss collabrations and present our projects so far.

    Contribution: We received feedback on our presentation and poster. We also discussed potential collaborations and gave each other feedback on how to improve our projects.

    Adjustments: We decided to reformat our presentation for the Jamboree, and changed our poster design to reflect the feedback we received on it. We also focused our project more on collaborating with other teams and building relationships between teams.

    Our Next Steps: Having formed relationships with many of the teams at the meetup, we now need to contact them to arrange collaborations with them.

  • 6th August

    The Microfibre Consortium

    Non-Profit Organisation

    Description: The Microfibre Consortium (TMC) facilitates the development of practical solutions for the textile industry to minimise microfibre release to the environment from textile manufacturing and product life cycle. The work of TMC looks to connect and translate deep academic research, with the reality of commercial supply chain production to offer solutions to its brand, retail and supplier members and ultimately for the greater good of our ecosystems.

    Contribution: We spoke to the CEO of TMC, Sophie Mather, about our project. She said that the company would be incredibly interested in taking our idea to a board meeting attended by multiple fashion brands. She also encouraged us to pursue the entrepreneurship side of the project by suggesting that we participate in a sustainable fashion competition to gain funding. She also said she would help us to check regulation on the byproducts released by our enzymes.

    Adjustments: We decided to focus on our entrepreneurship and building a company with the help of TMC and Miele.

    Our Next Steps: We have arranged for Ms Mather to visit our laboratory and University site to witness first hand our product, and to give us her expertise and advice.

  • 9th August

    Miele UK

    Household Appliance and Commercial Equipment Company

    Description: Miele is a high-end household appliance and commercial equipment company, based in Germany. We have been collaborating with them on the idea of having a microplastic filter integrated into their washing machines, which may be feasible especially with the development of smart washing machines.

    Contribution: Miele visited the University for a tour around the biology lab and the fluids lab. This was incredibly informative as they explained that in their washing machines there could be space for an internal microplastic filter and this may be the case for other washing machine manufacturers. They were very interested by the project and felt that it go further than the competition and they would still happily be involved in the research process, even talking to us about the idea of funding for a studentship with us.

    Adjustments: We are now focusing heavily on designing our filter to be integrated into the washing machine system, incorporating ideas that Miele have suggested to make the design as good as possible for washing machines such as their own.

    Our Next Steps: We will now adapt our external proof of concept filter design to make it suitable for use as an integrated system, adjusting the design to make it more effective internally within a washing machine. This experience has also led us to deeply consider the possibility of continuing this as a company after iGEM, which would be made considerably easier by support from a large, established company such as Miele. We will therefore start to write a draft business plan.

  • 21st August

    Jim Williams

    Research Commercialisation Manager at the University of Exeter Penryn

    Description: To pursue the business side of our project, and to see if there is the possibility of creating a company out of this project, we contacted people at the Innovation Centre at the University. We needed to find out whether we could get IP on different parts of our research, and who would own what parts of the company.

    Contribution: Mr Williams went through our entire process with us, advising where we could possibly look into getting IP. He encouraged us that this would be possible, but advised us to think deeply about who has contributed significantly to the project, and therefore who has a share in it.

    Adjustments: We started to consider who had contributed to our project and how the ownership of the information would look. We also started to decide what exactly we want to get IP on.

    Our Next Steps: We now need to consider exactly how we want this process to look, and then arrange more meetings to get it underway. This is a very important step so we will need guidance on how to do it properly. Support from the University will be invaluable.

  • 28th August

    Miele UK

    Household Appliance and Commercial Equipment Company

    Description: Miele is a high-end household appliance and commercial equipment company, based in Germany. It has sustainable products with good environmental ratings, so we contacted their UK headquarters. We were interested in hearing their thoughts on the idea of attaching a microplastic filter to their washing machines, and whether it could be an integrated system in the future, especially with the development of smart washing machines.

    Contribution: We fed back our progress to the Technical Manager, who suggested not having an option for users to bypass the filter unit, since when integrated into washing machines, to allow it to be a complete system with regards to capturing microplastics entering the system, the contaminated water should not be allowed to bypass the system. The UK branch also put us in contact with the main Miele HQ in Germany to discuss the possibility of funding and support further.

    Adjustments: We will now not have an overflow system to allow the users to bypass the filter unit, reducing power consumption and the size of the unit. Miele are going to send us an enzyme delivery unit to test to see if we could use a mechanism like this for our system.

    Our Next Steps: This experience has led us to deeply consider the possibility of continuing this as a company after iGEM, which would be made considerably easier by support from a large, established company such as Miele. We will therefore start looking into grants and competitions to help us with funding. We are also going to review our enzyme delivery system designs.

  • 10th September

    The Microfibre Consortium

    Non-Profit Organisation

    Description: The Microfibre Consortium (TMC) facilitates the development of practical solutions for the textile industry to minimise microfibre release to the environment from textile manufacturing and product life cycle. The work of TMC looks to connect and translate deep academic research, with the reality of commercial supply chain production to offer solutions to its brand, retail and supplier members and ultimately for the greater good of our ecosystems.

    Contribution: The CEO of The Microfibre Consortium visited our biology and engineering labs to understand our project and discuss how they can help support us. Mrs Mather advised us on taking our project further within the fashion industry. She shared her expertise of textile factories with us and encouraged us to pursue this part of our project further, as it could be a really beneficial application of our technology.

    Adjustments: Mrs Mather is providing us with real data from Taiwanese factories, where fabric concentrations are known and our filter can be fully utilised. She is also helping us enter the H&M Foundation Global Change Award, and we will be putting forward a joint application with TMC.

    Our Next Steps: We are now looking into competitions and sources of funding to continue this project after iGEM, as well as researching other applications our filter may have and how we would have to adapt it to fit them.

  • 10th September

    Peter Heaton Jones MP and Dr Therese Coffey MP


    Description: We contacted MPs in the local area to discuss the issue of microplastic pollution from household washing machines. We corresponded with Peter Heaton-Jones, MP for North Devon, who contacted Dr Thérèse Coffey, who until three days ago was the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She has now been appointed Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions.

    Contribution: Dr Coffey responded to us and detailed what the Government is doing in this area. The Government’s priority “continues to be preventing plastic entering the environment in the first place and eliminating avoidable plastic waste”. Defra is supporting research projects exploring microplastics, specifically those released during washing cycles. However, “the Government currently has no plans to require manufacturers to install microplastic filters on new washing machines” but is trying to encourage them to improve their environmental sustainability.

    Adjustments: We will continue to target washing machine manufacturers to encourage them to become more sustainable, but we will also consider the water industry and how they can play a part in removing microplastics from the water system.

    Our Next Steps: We will continue to monitor legislation and the ways in which Defra is working with the Environmental Agency and the UK water industry to monitor microplastics. If necessary, we will continue to put pressure on them to consider added incentives to washing machine manufacturers to increase their sustainability.

  • 11th September

    Dr Victoria Hammond

    Research Commercialisation Manager

    Description: Dr Hammond is a Research Commercialisation Manager in the Commercial and Business Programmes Team within Innovation, Impact and Business. She supports academics at the University of Exeter with the commercialisation of intellectual property through licensing and the formation of spin-out companies. Dr Hammond mainly works on healthcare, life sciences, and medical device innovations.

    Contribution: We spoke to Dr Hammond to find out whether we could get intellectual property on our filter design, and how to go about filing it. She spoke to us about the different forms of intellectual property and know-how, and made it clear to us that to get a patent we need to not disclose anything into the public domain.

    Adjustments: We have already disclosed a lot of information on our wiki which means that we cannot file a patent on any of the things which are currently in the public domain. This rules out a lot of the project.

    Our Next Steps: Before we upload anything else to the wiki, we are considering whether we want to keep a few things back so that we keep the potential to have trade secrets or future intellectual property.

  • 24th September

    Miele UK

    Household Appliance and Commercial Equipment Company

    Description: Miele is a high-end household appliance and commercial equipment company, based in Germany. It has sustainable products with good environmental ratings, so we contacted their UK headquarters, who then passed us on to their main HQ in Germany. We were interested in hearing their thoughts on the idea of attaching a microplastic filter to their washing machines, and whether it could be an integrated system in the future, especially with the development of smart washing machines.

    Contribution: The Technical Manager of Domestic Appliances at Miele UK attended a meeting in London that had representatives from key parts of industry; Sancroft, a sustainability consultancy company, were chairing the meeting. Miele's commitment to a microfibre free washing machine was presented and our idea was discussed, which "created great excitement amongst the delegates". We also received concerns about the waste products our filter would be releasing, which we know in the concentrations that would be produced are benign.

    Adjustments: We will now do more testing to find out an exact percentage of microfibres caught so that we can feed back to Miele on the exact details.

    Our Next Steps: We need to provide data to the concerned parties about the concentrations of the byproducts and the percentage of microfibers going down the drain after the cleaning process to assuage their doubts.

  • 5th October

    Nationwide Fun Palace Event

    Description: We hosted an scientific workshop at the public library as part of the nationwide Fun Palace event. Fun Palaces is a campaign promoting community at the heart of culture and culture at the heart of community, with an annual weekend of action created by, for and with local people. This event is held across the UK to encourage families to celebrate art and science as part of the wider community.

    Contribution: We hosted a strawberry DNA extraction event for children, a microplastic sieving activity where the investigated microplastic fibres under a fluorescence microscope and a plastic collage. We also asked parents who attended the activity to fill in our survey that aimed to assess the general public's opinion of synthetic biology and genetic modification in general and in specific cases. From the results of the survey, analysed and presented on the outreach and engagement page of our wiki, we discovered that most of the awareness surrounding synthetic biology comes from media outlets and mainly surrounding GM crops.

    Adjustments: As a team we became aware that more people are interested in learning about the development of genetic modification and synthetic biology as their only awareness comes from news articles that tend to be negative. Specific feedback included "please hold more informational events that educate us!" and "it's important for my children to learn about this type of research especially in our current age." Due to the success of this event we were also invited to a primary school in March to deliver the same workshop as part of National Science Week!

    Our Next Steps: Whenever we host any educational events in the future, for example the bioethics lecture for 2nd year biosciences students later this month and the National Science Week primary school event in March, we will emphasise the purpose of genetic modification and the positive ways it can be used.

  • 10th October

    Associate Deans of Education at the University of Exeter

    Description: We contacted the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education to discuss our thoughts on the integration of social sciences disciplines into STEM courses. He set up a meeting with the three Associate Deans of Education of the STEM colleges to discuss this idea further.

    Contribution: We had a meeting with the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education and the Associate Deans for Education of the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, and the College of Medicine and Health. The University has already been considering how best to move onwards and push for integrating natural and social sciences, and we gave our opinions on how we thought this could be best implemented. We discussed implementing new modules, having it alongside lab time, seminars run by social scientists, tutorials involving students from different departments.

    Adjustments: We now understand more clearly the vision that the University has regarding the future of education and what can and cannot be done to implement ideas and discussions from the social sciences into our STEM courses.

    Our Next Steps: The team are going to collaborate with the DVC and his team on the vision for the future of education at the University of Exeter, acting as a student voice in the discussions.

  • 14th October

    Bioethics Lecture

    Description: We gave a lecture to second year biosciences students entitled 'Bioethics: iGEM Responsible Research and Innovation' to present our research and the different aspects of bioethics at different stages in the project.

    Contribution: Two members of our team talked through our project and went into detail about the Human practices we had considered throughout our project and how this links to responsible research and bioethics. Our aim for this lecture was to encourage them to think more about the applications of synthetic biology and introduce them to iGEM. We found that the biosciences students were definitely aware of the real life impacts of responsible technology and innovation but also curious about our project in a more general sense.

    Adjustments: Feedback from the bioethics lecture showed that students were interested in our application of synthetic biology and the iGEM competition. The 15-20 minute question and answer session after the lecture showed us the key areas of our project that should be explained more clearly when we present in Boston as well as just generally when discussing the concepts with companies, academics and the general public.

    Our Next Steps: We will look to address some of the more common questions fed back to us by 2nd year students, including 'will the filter get clogged up?' 'how will the user replace the enzymes?' and 'what has been the biggest challenger for you in terms of ethics?, more clearly in the final presentation.

  • 18th November

    Steve Double MP

    MP for St Austell and Newquay

    Description: We were invited to Westminster to discuss our project with Steve Double, one of our local MPs. We will be asking him about his thoughts on microplastic pollution and what the Government is doing to tackle it, and present him our idea.

    Contribution: We look forward to discussing the issues of microplastics in Westminster and aim to discuss the possibility of integrating filters into washing machines via legislation.

    Adjustments: We hope to use what we learn from our meeting and implement it into the further development of this project as a potential start-up company.

    Our Next Steps: Don't know yet, but we look forward to finding out!