Team:Wageningen UR/Human Practices


Human Practices

Human Practices

Xylencer, like all technology, does not exist in a vacuum. To continuously improve our project, we explored the perceived impact our project would have on the environment and what implications it would have on society. In our stakeholder analysis, we spoke to representatives of different stakeholder groups in our project: farmers, authorizers and scientists. This informed us how these different groups would want a cure for Xylella fastidiosa to look like, which helps us to improve and design our project in such a manner that it is accepted and aligned with the needs of these stakeholders, and society in general. To learn more about the ethical considerations and objections to the introduction of our project, we contacted several experts on ethics and organized an ethics workshop for students. More information on this can be found on the Ethics page.

The Stakeholder Web

Bob Mulder

It is important to listen and not convince when conducting an interview
Stakeholder Context

Before we started to reach out to our stakeholders, we discussed who they are and our communication strategy with Dr. Bob Mulder from the Social Sciences Department of Wageningen University.

Integrated Practices

To make our interviews with stakeholders more productive and less biased, Dr. Bob Mulder gave us the advice to make an interview guide. He gave us feedback on the provisional interview guide, as well as on communication strategies for our project.

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Integrated Human Practices

Dutch farmers and regulators taught us that no cure exists for X. fastidiosa. To prevent further spread of the pathogen, harsh preventative measures are in place, such as destruction of plant material, export bans and other quarantine measures. During our talk with an analyst of the floriculture sector, we learned that in regions densely filled with tree nurseries, damages due to a single X. fastidiosa finding could lead up to 100 million euros. These preventative measures are harsh, but necessary, as X. fastidiosa is itself very destructive, and cannot be cured.

For more information on this, look at the following stakeholders: Jan Veltmans, Maria Bergsma-Vlami and Lambert van Horen.

In order to cure plants and remove the need for preventative measures, we worked to develop a cure for X. fastidiosa using synthetic biology techniques. Experts taught us that the application of phages in agriculture currently has some disadvantages, of which the degradation of phages by UV light is one of the biggest. This led to the development of the Phage Delivery Bacterium (PDB). During the ethics workshop, we were alerted to the fact that misapplication of biocontrol agents is a great problem for the sector. We integrated this by having the PDB only produce phages upon the recognition of the target pathogen, removing this possibility for misapplication.

For more information on this, look at Britt Koskella and our Ethics page.

We designed and redesigned our project with safety in mind, in continuous contact with regulators from several government agencies. To ensure our PDB will not persist indefinitely in the environment, we incorporated a timer kill switch. More information on this kill switch can be found on the Safety page. We learned that there could be possibilities for the application of our product. After extensive lab-testing, in-field testing opportunities could exist in regions in Spain and Italy. However, there are no precedents for the approval of similar projects. A change in the current legislature, driven by the severity of the problem of X. fastidiosa, could facilitate a real-life application.

For more information on this, look at the following stakeholders (clockwise): Maria Bergsma-Vlami, RIVM, Dick Verduin, Cécile van der Vlugt, Eva Garrote García and Martijn Schenk.

Multiple stakeholders indicated that the current method of manual detection of X. fastidiosa is very laborious. High amounts of plant material need to be collected and tested in high-containment laboratories to get reliable data on the presence and distribution of X. fastidiosa. For many countries, especially those who have no site of infection yet, this is not feasible, and in fact, it is hypothesized that in many places X. fastidiosa had been present long before it was detected. We integrated this into our project by creating an in-field detection method that works on the vector of X. fastidiosa. We were taught that an automated detection tool like ours could fit into the existing detection infrastructure by functioning as pre-screening so manual detection could be more risk-based and follow-up diagnostics could be performed faster upon initial suspicions.

For more information on this, look at the following stakeholders (clockwise): René van der Vlugt, Eva Garrote García, Martijn Schenk and Maria Bergsma-Vlami.

Finally, we considered whether our project, when applied, would do good in the world. For this, we attended lectures, had discussions with experts on ethics and organized an interactive ethics workshop. For a complete overview of our approach and integrated feedback, visit the Ethics page.

For more information on this, look at our Ethics page.