As a team we realize the importance of education when it comes to shaping and sharing the future of synthetic biology. Therefore, we incorporated education and public outreach throughout our project to mutually learn and open up the discussion about developments that have the potential to inherently change our society. Our project, ADOPE, encompasses more than the design of a detection method for gene doping and stimulates people to actively be aware of the opportunities as well as the threats of synthetic biology as applied to gene technology and beyond. In the table below we give a brief overview of what we have done, how we did it and the achievements.
|Designing an innovative method for future laboratory education to ensure thorough, cost-effective and especially safe lab practices.||VR laboratory||We have taken the first steps on actual implementation of the VR lab in education.|
|Promoting mutual learning and interaction with the public in synthetic biology.||
|Creating societal awareness on the potentials and threads of synthetic biology.||
|Enhancing communication within the iGEM community.||Hotline||Teams from all over the world contacted us with questions.|
Interactive Virtual Reality Laboratory
At the beginning of May, we started out with the innovative idea to create a Virtual Reality (VR) laboratory training environment. In this way, we want to innovate in education for highly interactive, less expensive and more encompassing laboratory preparation. The idea started with one of our team members who had relatively little laboratory experience because this is an expensive component for the education programs. We went into our own lab to measure everything, from the height of the benches to the dimensions of the pipet tips. In figure 1 you can see the result, our lab in real life and in virtual reality compared. We can make people experience our project with an app. Try it out yourself at our stand in the Exhibition Space during the Giant Jamboree. If you can’t wait, you can already take a look at our video shown below!
There are several more good reasons for VR development in laboratory education that prompted us to develop this, amongst which:
- Diverse safety measure incorporation
- Less dangerous
- Less waste
- Teachers can easily and on the spot observe their students’ progress
- Students could practice at home, if they like
- Zooming in
To identify the usefulness of VR for safety training we had a talk with Erwin van Rijn, the safety coordinator at the Bionanoscience Department of the TU Delft. He recommended to focus on general lab training for beginning life science students. In this training we incorporated safety procedures, which can be extended in the future.
Fellow students sometimes complained to us that during their first times in the lab they would not always exactly know what they were doing. Therefore, beginning students might experience difficulties with exactly determining the risks involved in every procedure that they carry out. Even though this is what we always try to overcome by good preparation, practicing in the lab is often different. Therefore, practicing in VR is a good opportunity better evaluate the risks involved in real life laboratory practices.
A talk with the program coordinator of Nanobiology at Delft University of Technology, Serge Donkers, revealed that laboratory education is highly expensive, partly due to the extra laboratory space and equipment that is required. Therefore, often this type of education is kept to a minimum to reduce costs. VR could change this to prepare young researchers better for the future that is awaiting them.
Students learn laboratory skills by practice, which means many petri dishes, pipet points, but also chemicals are wasted. With VR, power is used, but much plastic as well as chemical and biological waste is saved.
In VR, teachers can track individual progress and add personal challenges from a distance for optimal learning curves.
Students could have their lab at home in VR for their laboratory practice, given their computers have the right specifics.
Students could zoom in on their samples, giving them a better idea of what they are actually doing.
Delft University of Technology is currently thinking about opening a VR learning center, which we hopefully brought a little closer with this idea. We pitched our VR laboratory to all study program coordinators of our faculty and have collected great interest. Hopefully, in this way, we will soon have safer, less expensive and more encompassing laboratory training. We would like to thank Arno Freeken, Luuk Goossen and Arend-Jan Krooneman from the Department of Architecture at Delft University of Technology for aiding in the development of our VR laboratory.
EurAsian Meetup Bioethics Workshop
Apart from developing a tool to teach students how to work in the laboratory as we did with our VR, we believe (young) scientists should also be taught about their ethical responsibilities that stretch beyond the laboratory. Therefore, we organized a workshop during the iGEM EurAsian Meetup with the topic: Bioethical dilemma’s across borders. The goal of this workshop was to increase the awareness of bioethics in the participants and to trigger reflection on the bioethical questions of their own projects.
We combined elements from the iGEMmers Guide to the Future (2017), advice given to us by Mr. Virgil Rerimassie, co-creator of this tool, and elements discussed by bioethicists Mr. Hui Kang and Britte Bouchaut, MSc. in their talks prior to the workshop. In mixed break-out groups, we discussed two topics with inherent ethical dilemmas that iGEM teams can face or have faced in the past: bioluminescence and gene drives. In the final round, the iGEM teams got together again and discussed how the same questions of the first two rounds could be applied to their own project. We received positive feedback from the teams, many naming this workshop as one of the most useful parts of the meetup. Opinions still differed greatly, as illustrated by the quotes below.
Would you like to set up a similar workshop? Please see our contributions page for a hands-on-guide on setting up and moderating a bioethics workshop.
On October 5th, 2018, we organised a Hackathon during the Cyber Security Week. Here we challenged participants to try and beat our gene doping detection algorithm. The first goal of the Hackathon was to educated participants about synthetic biology and our project. The second goal to learn from the participants and the sequences they generated. In this way, we were able to make our algorithm more robust through the knowledge and sequences we gained while imparting some of our own knowledge on the participants. The Hackathon was a perfect of how learning can go both ways.
High School Bioethics Debates
We think that also outside of iGEM children need to be brought in contact with bioethics and their own responsibility, whether this is in the development of technology or the use. Since the use of gene editing techniques are more and more widely available, we decided to visit high schools to start bioethics debates on this topic. Would they want to make use of DIY gene editing techniques? And why should they or should they not? More on the set-up of the debates can be found in the drop down below.
We decided to have one main topic of debate: 'The goal of sports is to get the best out of people. Is science allowed to contribute to this in any way?' After dividing the class over several groups of interest, e.g. the Ministry of Health and Sports, Sport doctors, Athletes and Fans, they could discuss their opinions in the light of their interest group.
Subsequently, they had to come to a united conclusion with the aid of some text fragments selected by us to provide a broader focus. Below in figure 7, the template is displayed that the students used for recording their opinions.
In setting up the lessons, we closely collaborated with Hannah Stammes from the education department of Delft University of Technology to have the most effective outcome of the debates. We followed the so-called 5E model. The five E's stand for Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate respectively. In the Engage phase of our visits we anticipated what we were going to do and made connections between the background knowledge of the students and the principles of gene doping and our detection device. Also, we evaluated the sports affinity of the class and made a link to sports events as the Tour de France that was upcoming.
After the Engage phase, the students could explore in their group discussion and source evaluation (Sources used by the students: fragments from “Topsport en gendoping: grenzen aan sport, opsporing en geloofwaardigheid” by Ivo van Hilvoorde and from “How Sports Would Be Better With Doping” from WIRED). We walked around to train them to explain their arguments.
Subsequently, during the explain phase there would be a discussion between all groups representing the different stakeholders. Often, this plenary debate would be vigorous, with students passionately defending their opinions against their classmates.
Then, we would answer their technical questions and we would evaluate the students knowledge in turn. Interestingly, some students independently came up with challenges we faced. An example is the insertion of small introns that could make exogenous EPO e.g. harder to detect. This gave a good idea of their high conceptual understanding as well.
Museum Youth UniversityWe gave a lecture to primary school children on our project. In video 2, they give their comments before and after the lecture. How do they think one can cheat with DNA?
As a response to our debate in Stirling as well as to the athlete interviews, we identified the need for athlete education when it comes to gene doping. Therefore, we contacted the responsible doping authority to discuss the implementation of gene doping education for athletes. The Dutch Doping Authority however indicated that they don’t want to address it as a separate topic, but see it integrated with the current education material. In Scotland in the mean time, prof. Dimeo and Dr. Henning are continuing the implementation of specific gene doping education.
Who knows better the issues of an iGEM team as one of the iGEM teams? This motivated us to set up a low threshold platform to help iGEM teams from all over the world. Several teams contacted us via our special e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
With selective social media messages, people tend to be informed only about their immediate interests. It can be enlightning to talk to people and engage in an open debate, especially on a topic not many people from the general public know about: synthetic biology! On June 26th we decided to bring the Biotechnology Day from Belgium to the Netherlands by engaging people in a debate on gene technology on trains!
Our team split up in three teams that travelled throughout the country. For mutual learning and engagement it is important to have a public as diverse as possible, and where to find this better than on trains that travel throughout a whole country?
Not only did we inform and engage passengers, we also learnt from them about the general opinion on several aspects of our project through a survey. 75% indicated that there should be more public debates on developments in biotechnology in general to inform the public and reduce fear caused by ignorance. That was what we strived for with our outreach activities with which we on purpose tried to address the general public.
One of our teammembers on a discussion in the train:
ADOPE team member
Gene Doping in Society Surveys
We handed out surveys both during the train debates and in the public transports and streets during our time in China. From the start we focussed on reducing any survey response effects, which are unintended psychological effects influencing the responses of the respondents. We found alarmingly high numbers of people interested to use gene doping for performance enhancement among the general public in both The Netherlands as well as in China. This reinforced our project, to promote responsible use of synthetic biology. The topic certainly caught public interest and one person even wanted to contemplate longer before sending us the survey over the mail as can be seen in figure 9.
We had the following hypotheses with results:
- We expected a general fear of gene technology due to a lack of information supply on the topic to the general public both in The Netherlands as well as in China.
- We hypothesized that people would be hesitant to use gene doping because the phenomenon will sound new and thereby dangerous to many people at this point. Based on a paper by Connor et al. (2009) that did research on the tendency towards doping use in athletes, one would expect that less than 12 per cent of the respondents from the general public would take gene doping for performance enhancement.
- We expected that people would generally not see gene doping as a problem, because they have most likely never heard of it before. Because gene doping is relatively unknown by the general public, we also expected people would think it will only become a problem in the future.
- We believed people are generally in favor of very strict doping control, since doping is a word we associate immediately with something that should be prohibited.
- We hypothesized that people generally don’t think gene doping could make sports fairer.
- We thought that people think gene doping should also be accessible to athletes to avoid large discrepancies between athletes and the rest of society.
Most people are not afraid for gene technology in both countries and there seems to be only little difference between both countries. In The Netherlands only 11.2% is afraid of gene technology, which is 13.7% in the People’s Republic of China. In addition, more than 75% of the respondents in The Netherlands indicated they would like to be more informed about developments in biotechnology through e.g. debates.
For the Dutch population this prediction is still relatively close to the 16% that actually wants to use gene doping for purposes other than just medical. For the Chinese population this prediction is clearly wrong as there 55% is open to using gene doping for performance enhancement. Together, given the extra pressure that is generally put on athletes, these figures provide us with an alarming estimation for possible gene doping use among the athlete population. In China we asked an additional question though that shows 10% of the general public would even like to take gene doping for performance enhancement if this would shorten their life to only five more years. Compared to Goldman’s dilemma that was developed in the 1990’s and found that more than half of the athletes questioned would take a performance enhancing drug that would kill them in 5 years (Goldman et al., 1992), this figure is relatively low. Keeping in mind however that we are polling the general population, this might be a figure consistent with Goldman’s research at the time. Later research from 2009 by Connor et al. indicated approximately 6% of the athletes at a track in the USA would take a similar drug (Connor et al., 2009), which is in turn lower than we found among this general population.
Both in China as well as in the Netherlands people think gene doping is not a real problem yet, although the percentages people estimate tend to result in relatively high numbers when applied to the athlete population. In the Rio Olympics of 2016 11544 athletes competed. If we apply the responses of the Dutch respondents to the Rio Olympics an absolute minimum of 760 athletes would have used gene doping on the 2016 Rio Olympics, compared to a minimum of 1075 athletes according to the Chinese respondents. On top of this, most respondents think gene doping will an even bigger problem in the (near) future. This might be a good indicator for the confidence athletes would put into these therapies.
Indeed, the majority is in favor of strict doping control maintenance. In The Netherlands almost 90% wants to maintain very strict doping controls and in China 70% wants this.
We thought people would naturally reject this and tried to challenge them in the debate before, comparing it to the natural unfairness inherent to gene distribution. In China 13% believes gene doping can make sports fairer. In The Netherlands 11.2% thinks the same, which is what we expected.
In The Netherlands however, 66.5% thinks gene doping in sports should then still stay prohibited. Thus, most likely our detection method will have a market for many years to come.
Firstly, we were aware of a threat for endorsement effects. Endorsement effects are effects of expected preference that influence the respondents. Of course we explain who we are and that we are developing a detection method for gene doping. Nevertheless, during the discussions we actively kept an open mind on the topic and challenged people to think out of the box, adopting a neutral position ourselves by challenging the future of our method. We would not elaborate on our personal opinions before handing out the survey. On top of this, we hoped to circumvent any reference effects by having fully anonymous surveys that did not ask for any classification that could be associated with answer preferences. Then there often is the problem of question order effects, which we addressed by rephrasing several questions at different points of the survey. In the athlete survey we on top of this evaded the word “doping” to circumvent any bias that is directly inherent to this word. Instead we used words as genetic alterations and gene editing, which generally have less strong negative feelings attached to them.
The trains and public transport locations were chosen to reduce nonresponses and to have a highly representative population. Subsequently, we started off our surveys with several clear hypotheses and had 181 respondents in the Netherlands and 126 respondents in China.
To make our project understandable for the general public, we made a short movie about iGEM, our team and our project.
National and International Publicity
When it comes to publicity, we started out small, reaching out to the media channels related to our University. Soon however, we were picked up by National and International news sites that stretched till the UK, Canada and beyond. One afternoon, we were googling our project and found that we even had been cited by media without our knowledge. This shows the extend to which our impact reached.
Delta (Delft Newspaper):
When we just started in the lab, we reached out through the Deltato advertise our topic choice.
Delta (Delft Newspaper):
Just before the train debates, the Deltawrote an article about us to inform people of the event.
AD (National Newspaper):
After the successful train debates, the event was picked up by the national newspaper, the AD.
NOS Radio 1:
Our team managed to be broadcasted on the national radio. Listen to the audio here.
Canadian Running Magazine:
Around the time of our Stirling visit, we were highly commented on Twitter. We were even picked up by a Canadian Sports Magazinereporting on gene doping.
Thanks to an effort by iGEM Rotterdam, we had an article published on the Dutch National Biotechnology Society (NBV) website together with the other dutch iGEM teams. Check it out here.
Chemical Sector Review C2W:
Together with the other Dutch iGEM teams, we had an article published on the website of C2W, a platform for professionals in chemical and life sciences. Read the article here.
Biotechnology community website:
Read the article here.
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Read the article here.
Nicola Busca, a journalist from London, came to Stirling to attend our expert discussion and wrote a marvelous article on gene doping and our project. Read the article here.
We attended many events to inform the public on synthetic biology and our project!
In February we represented iGEM on the open day at Delft University of Technology.
We presented our project for the first time during the Kickoff of the Delft Bioengineering Institute. Here we met Clive Brown, Chief Technical Officer of Oxford Nanopore Technologies, who showed great interest in our fusion protein.
We believe iGEM doesn't stop after the competition. Not only do many teams continue their project, the iGEM experience creates intergenerational bonding. Therefore, we organized an intergenerational TU Delft iGEM BBQ for which we invited old team members since the beginning of TU Delft in iGEM.
During the first week for freshmen in Delft, there is a big event organized called the OWee. Here, we presented our project with beetroot juice. Beetroot juice has been speculated to improve physical performance, which we wanted students to test on our running track. In the meantime, we would of course tell them all about our project!
During the Bio-Fiction - Science, Art & Film Festival, we watched several short movies focused on the ethical issues surrounding new biotechnologies. This was followed with a discussion headed by four panelists: Alexander Armstrong from TU Delft iGEM, Oriana van der Sande, Tobie van Dalen, and Zoe Reddy. The focus of the discussion was the influence of art on how we view and understand new scientific and technological developments. Alexander provided his thoughts on the accuracy of the science presented in the movies to complement the other panelists thoughts on the artistic merits of the films.
- Robaey, Z. et al. (2017). iGEMmers Guide to the Future. Retrieved on 21-02-2018 from: https://live.flatland.agency/12290417/rathenau-igem/.
- Connor, J. et al. (2013). Would they dope? Revisiting the Goldman dilemma. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 47 (11):697-700. Doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091826. PMID 23343717.
- Goldman, R. et al (1992). Death in the locker room: drugs and sports (2 ed.). Elite Sports Medicine Publications. p. 24. ISBN 9780963145109.
- Steadman, I. (9 October, 2012). How Sports Would be Better with Doping. WIRED. Retrieved on 16-03-2018 from: https://www.wired.com/2012/09/sports-and-doping/.
- Van Hilvoorde, I. et al. (2004). Topsport en Gendoping. Krisis.