Team:Tacoma RAINmakers/Human Practices

Team:TacomaRAINmakers/Notebook -


Human Practices

As a community lab, we value the opinions of all those living around us and are conscious of the impact our work has on them. With this commitment in mind, we discussed our project with the community and gathered their vast and diverse opinions.

In March, we went to the South Sound Sustainability Expo, where we surveyed various attendees about what they felt were problems that needed to be addressed. Using these results, we finalized our project path, focusing on agriculture's impact on our natural world.

In May, at the Mini Maker Faire, we received feedback from the community about our project. Additionally, we created a poll sheet to let the community decide on our team logo.

In August, one of our RAINmakers presented about synthetic biology at a high school orientation. The freshmen’s opinions on our project were recorded and compiled.

Sustainability Expo

March 2nd, 2019

On March 2nd, 2019, at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, the 12th annual South Sound Sustainability Expo brought together thousands of people and organizations to explore the zero waste and sustainable lifestyle. The Tacoma iGEM team attended in hopes of finding information pertaining to sustainability, biotechnology, and our community’s needs and opinions. The latter was obtained through our team’s survey, which asked community members if they think “we use too much energy and should look for alternative light sources,” the “lumber industry is causing major deforestation and is ruining the habitats for many animal populations,” “fertilizer used for plants is very toxic for the environment and can contaminate water sources,” etc.

A rating system from 1 to 5 was used to determine the importance community members felt for these concerns, 5 being most important. An analysis of our results revealed that environmental contamination through the use of fertilizers was the most dominant concern in our community, gaining a 4.2894 average score through the rating system. Energy waste and alternative light sources, deforestation, infections from lack of hospital sanitation, and lack of maternity care in rural areas were respectively the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th most important concerns in our community according to our survey. For demographics, the majority of surveyees live in urban areas, are female, and are in the 25-40 age range.

The Expo was also a wonderful opportunity to understand the sustainability concerns of community members through face to face connections, not just through surveys. For example, our team had the opportunity to speak with the vendor for the Brown Paper Baking Company, a Tacoma bakery that uses organic ancient grains instead of modern grains for its breads and pastries. These ancient grains are armoured by a thicker outer layer than its modern counterpart, so they are less affected by harmful substances like pesticides. However, the vendor stated that the expensive price of ancient grains increase the price of the bakery’s goods, making healthy food options less accessible to the Tacoma community. Ways to synthetically engineer a thicker outer layer onto the cheaper modern grain were discussed by our team afterwards. Furthermore, this specific example and experience helped our team understand the broader problem in our community of sustainability and health vs. lack of wealth.

Our team also engaged with representatives from the City of Tacoma’s Sustainability Small Grant, who provided several online sources to further our project search, and discussed possible grant opportunities for organizations like RAIN. They also discussed the importance of waste and pollution reduction in industrial cities like Tacoma, and the types of waste and pollution prevalent in Tacoma. This new information gave rise to possibilities of projects that could help our community.

All in all, by attending the South Sound Sustainability Expo, the Tacoma iGEM team obtained a greater understanding of our community’s needs and began exploring how biosynthetic technology could solve these needs.

Mini Maker Faire

May 11th, 2019

We attended the Tacoma-South Sound Mini Maker Faire, which was hosted by Graduate Tacoma (a collective action network under the nonprofit Foundation for Tacoma Students). The event was at UW Tacoma. The Mini Maker Faire is an event designated for scientists, artists, and other craftsmen to showcase their creations and work. We set up a booth for the Tacoma RAINmakers that allowed people to follow a protocol to create a compostable bean pot made from newspapers. Visitors were also able to buy RAIN stickers and pins to support our team. Our goal for the booth was to advertise and educate people on iGEM and our project. The purpose of the bean plant was to connect our project to something people can study or do at home, in line with the “maker” theme of the event.

The Mini Maker Faire also allowed us to speak with other scientists and community members that we otherwise would not have. For example, we got to take a look at UW’s robot therapy experiment. They showed us how therapy could be more accessible to students through the use of machines.

Additionally, we were able to hear responses, in regards to our iGEM work, from visitors that did not completely agree with our project and we were able to practice reasoning the benefits and motivations behind our work. Overall, the people that heard about our project were in support of the work we are doing.

School of Livestock and Agriculture Technology #15

August 7th, 2019

Tacoma RAINmaker Julie Yoon spoke at the orientation event for School of Livestock and Agriculture Technology #15 (CBTa 15), an agricultural highschool in Bolonchén, Campeche, Mexico.

The goal of her presentation was to educate incoming freshmen about the future of agriculture and science--specifically synthetic biology--in their community and the world.

After briefly introducing the concept and uses of synthetic biology, Julie used our iGEM project as a vehicle to more deeply discuss the ways in which synthetic biology works. Afterwards, she handed out surveys to students and teachers as a way to generally assess whether our research/product could be accepted and sold in the Campeche area. Most students were completely in agreement or in agreement with statements like “I am concerned about pollution in our water,” “I am receptive to the use of rhizobia instead of nitrogen fertilizer,” “I am receptive to the use of GMOs to support plants.” Therefore the responses we got on our surveys positively indicated that our product may be accepted/sold in the Campeche area.

Furthermore, some students commented on their surveys with thoughts on the presentation. For example, after learning about the relationship between sustainable agriculture and synthetic biology, one student wrote that “synthetic biology seems like a very interesting field.” Another student commented that they believe an issue for agriculture in their community is “lack of education” about the field. This student’s feedback encouraged our team to look for more educational opportunities in our Tacoma community and through global collaborations.

This was a wonderful opportunity to impact and connect with a community outside of our Puget Sound Area, and to learn about the potential reception of synthetic biology and our product in a more global context.