Team:Oxford/Public Engagement


Our surveys and discussions with the public as part of our human practices work quickly informed us that there was a knowledge gap in the public sphere and a desire for reliable, accessible information about genetic engineering technology. Therefore the focus of our public engagement became opening up the conversation around genetic engineering to understand public opinion and provide them with unbiased clear information, should they want it. We achieved this in a number of ways:

Initial Survey

This data showed that even with a young age bracket (predominantly under 21s) there was a lack of understanding of genetic engineering (GE).

Public Lecture

We also ran a public lecture at the Natural History museum in Oxford where we informed people across all ages from families with young children to over 65s about general ideas of microbiology and genetic engineering in a playful and interactive way. We did this by using interactive games that describe bacterial growth and using visual stimuli. Want to play it at home? Download the pdf!

We also engage directly with the public, discussing their questions and ethical dilemmas. People expressed a lack of publicly available resources, further confirming our ideas about the lack of publicly available and palatable information on GE.

Ethics Workshop

We also ran an ethics workshop as part of a summer school at Corpus Christi college, Oxford, posing ethical dilemmas to the students to challenge their preconceptions and explore potential issues surrounding genetic engineering technology. We also provided the students with some information about how genetic engineering is being used and about our project to make sure they were on an equal playing field of background knowledge. There were no right or wrong answers but we encouraged the students to think beyond the scope of what they had considered before, posing questions such as: when do we use this technology and when do we stop? Who should be allowed to work on it? Who decides what we work on; should the general public get a say? How should this technology be paid for?

Further Surveying across Europe

To further investigate this public knowledge gap in genetic engineering we set out to gather data from across Europe on targeting common misconceptions. In collaboration with Oxford Leiden and Copenhagen, we surveyed over 200 people from across the UK, Netherlands and Denmark. Detailed results can be seen on our Collaborationspage but from the data it was very clear that there was a generally positive feeling towards the use of genetic engineering but a real lack of understanding of its use and key concepts. A lot of people could not give a correct example of one use of genetic engineering or any example at all. One participant stated:

“A lot of people (including myself) do not know that much about it [genetic engineering]. They have probably heard the word in school and some examples, but not really know the consequences or if it is really good or bad.”

It was interesting to see how the breakdown across countries and age groups affected this, again see Collaborationspage but it convinced us that the main barrier to use and understanding of genetic engineering is the lack of accessible information, as most people received their information about genetic engineering from school and the media. This information really confirmed the goal of our public engagement to bring greater accessible information into the public sphere.

Interviewing At-Risk Groups in Society

After we became aware of our highest risk patient group: over 65s, we quickly realised how often they are neglected in public outreach. We believe they are an extremely valuable part of society and their opinions must be heard. In our particular case, they would be our target patients so it was of crucial importance to us to have their feedback and opinions on using gene editing technologies to provide treatment. We interviewed over 65s in the local area of Reading and Oxford to understand their stance on genetic engineering and gauge their opinion on our project. Whilst they admitted to a limited understanding of how the technology is used, they were generally supportive of its use. Another key factor in our discussions was safety. They wanted to know what kind of tests would be undertaken in clinical trials and were satisfied by our considerations, with one gentleman saying:

“It’s impossible for there to be no risk but you seem to have thought through all the risks and it’s a great idea.”

Interviewing CDI Patients

We also recorded interviews with previous C. difficile patients to gain some understanding of the infection at a human level and raise awareness of the infection for the rest of the public sphere. See a clip from one of our interviews below.

Information Resources

We further decided to create some resources that could be used by C. difficile patients and the general public alike to understand CDI and genetic engineering in greater detail. First, we created a leaflet for the general public that contains a short introduction to the general principles of Genetic Engineering and its uses.

We received the help of information communication expert Dr Alison Black who has an entire career of experience both in industry and academia in this area. With her advice, we produced another leaflet which describes the symptoms and causes of C. difficile infection along with an overview of our probiotic functions, which you can view here.

Queens Collaboration Video

As well as our own resources, we decided to collaborate with Queen’s Canada iGEM to produce a video explaining key concepts of genetic engineering, in order to obtain an even greater reach to our information push. In our survey people often pointed out that a video would be a good way to explain the concepts of genetic engineering. Therefore, we decided to team up with other iGEM teams to produce this video answering frequently asked questions and explaining common words and techniques used in genetic engineering. Take a look at the video on our Collaborations page.


We have also spread the word about CDI and our project through a variety of media; our own social media, talks in academic contexts and published articles. We have discussed our research at the Biochemistry Department in Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Microbiome studies to interact with academics who may not be aware of the CDI problem and inform them of our research.
Our articles were published in the Oxford Scientist, the Oxford Student and Oxford Phenotype. You can have a read below:

On the front lines of bacterial warfare
As part of the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) competition, nine Oxford undergraduates from biology, biochemistry, biomedical sciences, chemistry, and engineering are declaring war on C. difficile bacteria…

A Look At IGEM: The Global Biology Competition
The Oxford Student, 06.2019

Could bacteria be worth a medal for Oxford?
The Oxford Scientist, issue TT2019

Synthetic biology in the war against antibiotic resistance
Phenotype Magazine issue 34 MT2019, global special issue