Human Practice Overview
The Human Practice part of our project is of great concern and can be divided into two major components: interaction with the public which would influence our experimental design as well as how our device would change the current social situation. The former component could be further categorized into five different areas: expert interviews, social research, safety device, public outreach, and collaboration. Through all these activities, we attempt to inform people of the cyanobacteria's negative influence on environment as well as society. Meanwhile, we want to prove our product's practical value and its applicability in the real aquatic environment. The public outreach is crucial to us, because it eventually shifts our focus from eradicating the cyanobacteria in the lakes to successfully degrading the salvaged cyanobacteria into usable commercial components. The our comprehensive design and achievements are presented in details later.
Integrated Human Practice
Field trip at Lake Taihu
Scientific research need empathy, and our team was shocked to learn through background research that due to the lack of regulation on factories dumping nitrogen and phosphorus waste into the water, the Taihu lake and its complex ecosystem has been threatened by cyanobacteria since the beginning of 21st century. Thus, we visited the Taihu Laboratory for Lake Ecosystem Research affiliated to Chinese Academy of Sciences to learn more about the background information on the current situation of cyanobacteria outbreak in China, governmental control, and practical ways to deal with them. The formal academic discussion with the researchers and the station supervisor was of great help. We learned that the current solutions could not eradicate cyanobacteria completely and backfire secondary problems such as leaving the salvaged cyanobacteria unprocessed. Comparatively, our approach of using the cyanophage lysozyme should be both cost-effective and environmental friendly. Later that day, we also collected water samples from Lake Taihu in order to gain more insights into the problem of cyanobacterial bloom.
Interview with Environmental Science and Engineering Prof. Wang from Fudan University
In July 2018, after researching on existing methods about controlling Cyanobacteria in the Taihu Lake, we shifted to evaluate the practical value our product can create. Thus, we contacted Professor Wang from Fudan University.
To our surprise, Professor asserted that our product could only work in the lab because we did not consider the more complicated affecting factors in the lake ecosystem. He further suggested that there's already a well- developed method to collect most of the Cyanobacterium in one area, and then salvage them on the shore. However, there's not a mature way to deal with these muddy Cyanobacteria. To bury them or to burn them create secondary pollution to the environment because if the accumulated nitrogen and phosphorus in the salvaged cyanobacteria flow back into the lake, cyanobacteria bloom would come back.
The discussion with Prof. Wang did not frustrate us, but it provides a great inspiration to our new focus: why don't we design a model that could lyse the cyanobacteria and convert it into its different components so that we could convert the "waste" into "wealth". And our design could add up to the already existed methods to fully complete a health "cyanobacteria elimination system".
We designed the offline research as the preliminary investigation of a more detailed online research. Therefore, this research aims to provide us with a general idea about public's view on cyanobacteria pollution in China. We went to central Wuxi, where the citizens have been suffering from cyanobacteria in the Taihu Lake, to conduct our offline research. We have received response from 91 questionnaires covering different genders and age groups. Based on analysis of these questionnaires, we were able to learn the public understanding of the cyanobacteria problem, such problem's influence on people's daily life, and public willingness to support our program.
The results and analysis are stated below :
1. About the age group
The effective number is 91 in total. Among all the interviewees, 28.5 percent of them are high school or primary school students; 31.9 percent of them study in college; and the rest 29.7 percent of them are already working.
2. To what degree are people aware of the cyanobacteria problem
The effective number is 91 in total. Among all these interviewees, 9 percent of them are well informed of the cyanobacteria problem; 68 percent of them are partially informed; 14 percent of them are not quite informed,; and the rest are not informed at all.
3. On what aspect does the cyanobacteria problem have an impact
The effective number is 91 in total. Among all these interviewees, 24 of them agree that cyanobacteria may particularly influence the drinking water; 10 of them take the view that cyanobacteria may have an impact on family's daily water usage; 9 claim that it may affect fishery products; 45 of them indicate that it may have an impact on water quality; 16 of them are worried about the aquatic ecosystem and other environmental issues; 13 interviewees agree that it may damage the appearance of the Lake Taihu; 16 support that there might be dreadful smell; and the rest don't think it will influence their life at all.
ps: for this question, people could choose more than one option
The online research is crucial to our social research, as it provides us with the most precise perspective through which we could learn about the public opinion on our project. Unlike our former questionnaires, this time the online questionnaire is more complicated and more inclusive of detailed questions about the outbreak of cyanobacteria, the government's policies toward such problems, current solutions to the outbreak and our special approach. Among all 21 questions, about 60% are general to cyanobacteria, and over 20% are about our project itself. Even though we've spent a lot of time and effort designing the questionnaire, we knew with satisfaction that our effort paid off when we received over 200 responses.
Part of the results presents as follows
I. The Outbreak of Cyanobacteria in China
Most people have heard about water pollution and cyanobacteria outbreak passively through TV programs or websites, but a large proportion of them are indifferent towards the issue: about 55% of the interviewees don't feel that their lives are affected by the outbreak of cyanobacteria. When being asked about what they think lead to cyanobacteria outbreak, the interviewees provide various responses: the unregulated disposal of fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus, the loss of biodiversity in the water body, and even a warmer temperature, etc. They provide their opinions on the advantage and disadvantage about the existing methods: for instance, salvaging is of lower expense but not effective enough, while using chemicals is faster but causes severe harm to the ecosystem. Despite all the different opinions, people generally all agree that there is no one perfect solution right now.
II. About the project itself
It really encourages us that the interviewees are surprisingly supportive of our theme. Nearly all the interviewees think highly of our experimental design, of which about 90% are willing to support us financially. Apart from this, they would also follow our Wechat official account and use products made by the decomposed cyanobacteria as well.
Analysis of the online and offline research
After the offline and online research, we gained lots of insights on how to improve our experiment design and increase people's awareness on the problem. First of all, we learned that a large proportion of our citizens have no idea about synthetic biology in general and the problem of cyanobacteria pollution: to help with such problem, we subsequently set up our official wechat account hoping that the articles we post within could help remove such ignorance and indifference. Moreover, people's concern about the environmental cost, effectiveness, efficiency and repeatability of the method pushed us to make our experimental design more suited to fulfill the public's requirement.
A "cyanobacteria-eliminating" system with our device
Through our painstaking experiment, we were able to create a prototype of the device, equipped with multiple environmental factors best suited for the full functioning of the immobilized lysozyme. Even though due to limited time we had, we were not able to fully test the subsequent processing(high speed centrifugation, components' self-precipitation, etc) of the end products including chemicals, buffer, and cyanobacteria components, it is thrilling enough to know that we are able to integrate a cyanobacteria lysis enzyme into a system that would fully lyse the formidable cyanobacteria into its valuable components. The full potential that the integrated device could achieve is up to future study and research to decide.
As we have stated before, the problem of cyanobacteria pollution is a complex issue, and existing methods could resolve some, but not all, parts of the problem. Since our device could resolve the particular issue of unprocessed salvaged cyanobacteria and turn them into valuable components and metabolites, we could add our model into the design of a well functioning cyanobacteria- eliminating system. This system, as indicated in the diagram below, is composed of the human regulation on the disposal of chemicals into the water, the addition of diverse fish species to consume the overpopulated cyanobacteria, the plantation of aquatic plants to restrain the nitrogen and phosphorus level in the water, an encircled water body for the entrapment of cyanobacteria, and factories using the final version of our device to lyse the cyanobacteria and provide the products to science labs and commercial companies. We strongly believe that by restraining the source of the problem, eliminating the existing problem, and turning the wasted into the valuable, we could establish a healthy ecosystem for all humanities.