Human Practices/Examples


Human Practices Example Projects

Here we have listed some examples of teams’ efforts in Integrated Human Practices and Education and Public Engagement. Many teams have done exceptional work in both of these related areas, but please note that we mean to highlight specific aspects of their work, not entire projects.

We hope these examples provide inspiration; however, they should not be prescriptive. Your team should find an area of focus most appropriate to and resonant with your team’s project and interests. We love to see new approaches

You can find more examples of excellent and inspiring work to build upon by checking out previous Integrated HP special prize winners and nominees (here are links to the 2017 and 2016 results) and previous years’ Human Practices Hubs (here are links to the 2017 and 2016 hubs).

Integrated Human Practices

Teams’ Integrated Human Practices efforts take many forms. Here are a few exemplary past efforts in various topic areas to demonstrate the breadth of teams’ work.

TUDelft’s video of Paul, a dairy farmer, using their mastitis detection kit.

Engaging with potential users, stakeholders and other experts

Teams have often focused their Human Practices efforts on identifying local challenges that their project might help solve in coordination and/or cooperation with others. In these cases, teams often engage with potential users, stakeholders and other experts to inform their project selection, design and execution.

For example, the TUDelft 2017 team (Winner, Grand Prize, Overgrad; Winner, Best Integrated Human Practices,Overgrad) became interested in the dairy industry and learnt about the problem of mastitis, a disease afflicting cows on nearby farms. The team worked closely with the dairy farmer, lab researchers and veterinarians to develop a diagnostic tool that the farmer could easily use by testing their product with the farmer and incorporating feedback into their design.

The Purdue 2017 team aimed to produce a bacteria that could break down benzene, a ubiquitous inhalable toxic industrial chemical linked to several diseases, including cancer. The team continually revised and strengthened their approach through consultation with many experts and stakeholders. For example, Purdue initially imagined that smokers would be their target audience; however, after receiving feedback from the Indiana Department of Health Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Commission, who worried that their product might make smoking appear safer, the team concluded that their product would better serve workers involuntarily exposed to benzene. (Note: Purdue also conducted a legitimate public survey with Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval and oversight from experts in survey design. The team used this survey to assess consumers’ greatest concerns and adjusted their design accordingly.)

The HSiTaiwan 2016 (Winner, Grand Prize, High School; Nominee, Best Integrated Human Practices, High School) team looked to address the problem of toxins in traditional Chinese medicines. They spoke with government regulators and manufacturers of Chinese medicine and analyzed government-conducted national health interview surveys to better understand current Chinese medicine use and toxin management practices. Equipped with this new understanding, the team designed a biosensor to detect the presence of toxins.

In each of these cases teams demonstrated great consideration and integration of stakeholder needs and concerns by documenting how/what they learned and how their project goals, design, execution and communication changed

Heidelberg’s SafetyNet software, available on their wiki

Safety and Security

Many teams have explored issues of safety and/or security related to their projects, whether these issues provided the initial motivation for their overall project or whether they arose in the process of research and development. The Heidelberg 2017 (2nd Runner Up, Grand Prize, Undergrad; Best Integrated Human Practices, Undergrad) team was one such team: they identified and addressed safety and security concerns presented by the methods of directed evolution they were developing and utilizing in their projects.

Heidelberg not only recognized and flagged safety issues associated with their project but also went further, developing a tool that would address both their own project’s safety challenges and those of other research teams doing related work. In consultation with experts in data processing and data safety, the Heidelberg team built software to scan input sequences for potential hazards. They then made their screening tool available on their team wiki so that other research teams could use and adapt it.

Team SCUT-FSE 2017 learning about corporate biosafety practices

Additional Research into policies and practices

Many teams have done additional research into institutional, local, national, and international policies and practices related to their projects. For example, the SCUT FSE 2017 team collaborated with NPU China 2017 to analyze biosafety laws, regulations and practices in industrial settings across China, the EU and the US. The teams also analyzed the safety concerns identified by 2016 iGEM gold medal winners. SCUT FSE summarized their research and findings in a report, which they then included on their wiki.

Other teams have done related work. The Manchester 2017 team collaborated with the UChile 2017 team and others to conduct an analysis of GMO regulations in Chile, Brazil, USA, EU, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, India and Canada. (The Manchester team used this research to explore where would be best to develop their phosphorus removal method for wastewater treatment plants, ultimately deciding on Canada.) Still more teams have focused principally on addressing local policies and regulations. For example, the Tec-Chihuahua 2017 team joined forces with a group of law students and professors at their school to research Mexico’s biosafety regulations, identified critical regulatory gaps associated with their own project, and met with local government representatives to propose new biosafety regulations that addressed these gaps.

2012 Evry team members debate the ethics of engineering animals.

Philosophical and ethical questions

Other teams have explored larger philosophical and ethical questions arising from their work. For example, the 2012 Evry team’s project introduced the Western clawed frog as a new chassis for synthetic biology, and their Human Practices efforts explored the philosophical implications of their proposal: What does it mean to introduce a living thing as a “chassis,” a word most frequently used to describe the base frame of a vehicle? To address this question, the team explored literature by prominent thinkers in philosophy, history of science, genetics and other disciplines in a series of wiki entries. They held meetings with DIY Biohackers and humanities students to discuss the ethics of engineering animals. In the same year, the 2012 Freiburg team did complementary work analyzing the metaphor of a “living machine.”

The 2013 Manchester team’s impact analysis report, published on their wiki.

Impact and feasibility of potential products

Some teams have examined the impact and feasibility of developing, scaling and commercializing any real-world products resulting from their projects. For example, the 2013 Manchester team did an impact analysis report for their synthetic palm oil, evaluating how their oil would affect national economies that export palm oil in high quantities (e.g. Malaysia and Indonesia) and how their oil’s production might impact the environment.

Other teams have explored issues of intellectual property (IP) related to their work. Both the 2012 Stanford-Brown Team and the 2012 British Columbia Team made IP and patent guides for other iGEM teams hoping to better understand how the rights to their discoveries and inventions might be controlled and/or shared.

Imperial 2016’s Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) protocol

Frameworks and tools

Several teams have used their reflections to develop and adapt frameworks and tools that might help other iGEMers and researchers incorporate Human Practices considerations into their work.

For example, Imperial College 2016 (Winner, Grand Prize, Undergrad) developed a new problem-solving framework. They combined two decision-making frameworks — the Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) protocol, a formalized way to reflect on social, ethical, and economic considerations and the problem-based learning (PBL) framework, After using this combined framework to guide their own HP efforts, the team documented and shared it to provide a new strategy by which iGEM teams (and other biological engineers) might integrate Human Practices concerns into their work process.

Exeter 2017 also used and assessed frameworks for guiding innovation, ultimately using the AREA (Anticipate, Reflect, Engage, Act) framework, a guide to the Responsible Research and Innovation process endorsed by the European Commission, as a reference throughout their project. On their wiki, the team explained each of their project steps in terms of the AREA framework, providing a guide to other teams who might wish to implement a similar approach.

Teams have used other frameworks to select and improve their project goals. For example, Groningen 2017 turned to the Rathenau Institute’s iGEMers Guide to the Future at the beginning of their project, using it to map out how stakeholders’ input, users’ outstanding needs and their own values should inform their choice of project. (They finally decided to work on a bacteriophages detection system for the dairy industry.)

Education and Public Engagement

There have been many strong Education and Public Engagement projects with diverse approaches. Here are just a few examples, each excellent and each quite different. The common theme is that the teams went to great care and effort to include more people in the discussion of their projects and overall work in synthetic biology. They did this by providing those unfamiliar with the topic with the necessary tools, knowledge, and opportunities to engage in a two-way (or multi-way) conversation about synthetic biology and their particular project application. Importantly, teams also showed how their perspectives and practices were altered through those interactions.

An element of the George State University 2017 Synthetic Biology Sign Language

Enabling equal opportunity in scientific practice

Several teams have focused their Education and Public Engagement efforts on enabling equal opportunity in scientific practice. The Georgia State University 2017 team (Winner, Chairman’s Award) interacted with hearing impaired students and professionals, seeking greater understanding of how such students experience the laboratory and communicate. The team then integrated these lessons into their lab practice, exploring and implementing protocols to make their lab more accessible to all students. These efforts included developing new sign language for the hearing impaired to discuss synthetic biology. They were awarded the Chairman’s Award, delivered each year to a team that best exemplifies iGEM values.

The Marburg 2014 team similarly investigated social injustice issues and epistemological questions through their work with the visually impaired, and demonstrated how this lead to development of analysis techniques based on audio versus visual readouts. Paris Bettencourt 2013 (Winner, Grand Prize, Overgard) conducted a study investigating gender representation in synthetic biology labs, conferences and publications and at iGEM, and they analyzed what their results might mean for future efforts to promote gender equality in science.

Young students in the midst of one of the 2015 William and Mary team’s educational activities.

Team EPFL at the Open Plant Curriculum Development Working Group, a workshop to discuss the integration of cell-free biology into the UK high school curricula.

EPFL’s Educational Cell-Free MiniKit

New educational materials

Several teams have developed and tested new educational curricula and tools for different levels of experience, and some have built upon their work in successive years.

William and Mary is one such team that has taken a notably rigorous approach over the years. The 2015 William and Mary (Winner, Grand Prize, Undergrad; Winner, Best Education and Public Engagement, Undergrad) team held workshops for elementary and high school students, teachers and parents to learn more about participants’ understanding, concerns and hopes for synthetic biology. The team then developed activities and kits based on workshop feedback. The team produced a booklet outlining the procedure, background information, materials and cost for 24 activities, along with critical learning questions and goals. They kept the activities low-cost, based on materials readily available, easily taught by teachers with limited biology education, and adaptable for students of any age or educational background. In 2017, the William and Mary team (1st Runner Up, Grand Prize, Undergrad) created a database of all iGEM outreach projects so that future iGEM teams could learn from and build upon past efforts and develop ways to test their effectiveness.

EPFL 2017 (Winner, Best Education and Public Engagement, Undergrad; Nominee, Best Integrated Human Practices, Undergrad) built an educational cell-free expression toolkit for high school classrooms to enable more widespread opportunities to engage in synthetic biology. The team took steps to ensure that they were building a toolkit that was safe and appropriate to the task, first checking with EPFL’s biosafety department to make sure that the kit complied with national safety regulations, then testing their kit with local high school classrooms. The team revised their kit design based on teacher feedback. They are currently working with a high school to develop a kit appropriate for their advanced biology curricula, expanding the kit’s capabilities to fit the teachers’ specifications.

A page from ArtScienceBangolore 2010’s comic book

Deliberating on the use of synthetic biology

Some teams have developed processes to deliberate the use and practice of synthetic biology. Often these deliberations also informed their integrated HP work.

Several teams have used artistic and/or design projects to illustrate and discuss alternate visions for synthetic biology’s future. For example, the 2009 Cambridge team (Winner, Grand Prize) collaborated with designers to illustrate a future application for their project: a yogurt containing biosensors that can monitor the microbiome and produce color-coded readouts. The students and designers constructed a timeline and illustration (see in video here) meant to critique the assumption that synthetic biology represents progress and to inspire debate and discuss among audiences about synthetic biology’s future applications.

ArtScienceBangolore 2010 created a “comic book” to illustrate and translate a list of synthetic biology-related terms to various members of their local community. The list arose from a series of workshops and artistic collaborations the team hosted to “investigate the consequences of a synthetic ecology, an ecology in which organisms created in a techno-scientific environment interact with organisms in the wild.” The team also created murals around their home city of Bangolore and held DNA microscopy workshops for school children, among other activities.

The Stockholm 2016 team designed an education program challenging students to respond to synthetic biology case studies relating to ethics, environmental sustainability, and antibiotic resistance. Students were asked to practice ethical decision-making, evaluating which technologies should not be used “just because we have the know-how.” The team also led workshops at the Stockholm Makerspace, providing an opportunity for interested members of the community to practice synthetic biology.