Team:GO Paris-Saclay/Human Practices




Have you ever used the expression: “That’s in my DNA!” when you wanted to describe something that is very important for you?
It is a very common expression!

Indeed, in our society, DNA means much more than just deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a ‘concept’ that society has appropriated. DNA refers to our essence, what makes sense for us and builds our identity!
Modifying or removing DNA from our cells involves ethical, social and philosophical issues. Our Human Practices revolve around three main axes: explanation of synthetic biology, exchange with biologists and non-biologists and creation of an evolutionary philosophical model.

1. Animated cartoons on synthetic biology and our project

To explain synthetic biology, we wanted to create simple and accessible ways to communicate. We created two complementary videos, one that explains what is synthetic biology and the other that presents our iGEM project. In our animated cartoon, the cell’s DNA is represented as the writing on a big book. Following the production of nucleases, our DNA-free bacterium has its book with white pages. However, there are still a few post-it notes, symbolizing RNA, that can allow the bacterium to perform a few more missions before it dies. The target audience is both adults with no biological experience and children. It was interesting to note the reaction of non-scientific public: while many children connected the creation of newly genetically engineered bacteria as a lego play, some adults immediately associated DNA modifications as something dangerous. Following these reactions, we added a section to our animated cartoon, that we are presenting here, on how our project addresses the issue of genetic containment.

2. School visit: exchange with a class of 10 to 11-year old children

In our project, we wanted to reach different populations (e.g. biologists and non-biologists…) but also different generations. That is why we organized a meeting with children to present our project and listen to their reactions and ideas. We went to an elementary school in Viroflay (France) in June 2019 to interview children aged from 10 to 11 years old. We explained that the cell could be represented as a kingdom that has missions outside its borders and asked them to imagine what new functions their “kingdom cell” could have. They expressed their answer through drawings. You will notice that these young artists/scientists do not lack imagination and that a wide range of ecological projects emerge from the children's drawings, which show a deep desire to preserve the planet and living things. Two thirds of the children responded with ecological bacteria, able of degrading plastic, producing energy or cleaning nature. We got inspired from their ideas and we also wanted to make a bacterium that has an ecological application, we thus explored how to give an ecological application to our DNA-less cells. On the other hand, some children proposed original and daring ideas, such as a cell protecting against mosquito bites or a cell that makes dreams come true! And they were not far away from true as a reprogramming DNA-free cells opens a large field of possibilities.

3. Art and science exhibition of children’s drawing on our project

4. DNA extraction workshop from kiwi at a Science Fair open to the public

Since our project revolves around DNA and DNA-free cells, iGEM members moderated a workshop on DNA at a Science Fair held in the “Château de Button” (Gif-sur-Yvette, France) on the campus of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in early October. They led a workshop to extract DNA from kiwi, making the invisible visible and showing the tangible intangible. Questions about DNA size and organization was addressed in another workshop with the help of a ball of wool, a model of electrophoresis gel and DNA electrophoresis. The team discussed with children and non-scientific adults about the importance of DNA, its organization and its role in the living world.

5. Scientific presentation at a conference on Phages and subsequent poetic exchange

6. Philosophical model

In French the word “expérience” both means “experience” and “experiment". If we look at the different meanings of this word and think about it, we can say that, we, biologists, are continuously experimenting. We experience/experiment life as people and we make experiments in the lab.
As iGMers, we wanted to address the following questions: Can synthetic biology results inspire our way of seeing life, i.e. our life philosophy? Can our own life experiences influence the way we look at synthetic biology experimental results?
For every experiment we did, using our nucleases, we addressed one question about the meaning of emptiness. We thus proposed three different answers, in relation with a philosopher, in form of Haikus to underline the ephemeral of life. This game aims to provoke thoughts about all the questions surrounding a DNA-free cell. Please try it too and discover which philosopher your thought is most associated with !