To enhance publicity and understanding of our project, we produced outreach elements which aim to stimulate curiosity and conversation about our project, the iGEM organization and synthetic biology. Our approach was two-fold. We conducted a podcast, called SynTalks [link here], and a literature review. SynTalks was constructed for the purpose of outreach toward individuals within society who were interested in synthetic biology and our project. The literature review was constructed for individuals who were interested in receiving a more detailed analysis of the advancements of our project and current cellular separation and filtration methods. Ultimately the production of these outreach programs focused on providing information about our project, while our education and public engagement activities worked toward the unification of public and professional opinion into our project.
Considering our project revolved around the use of employing genetically engineered bacteria to clean water and we felt the need to educate the public on the positive outcomes of using genetically modified organisms. The misguided reputation of GMOs and the complicated nature of synthetic biology, has resulted in the distortion of scientific findings and is not being transmitted in a clear or coherent way to the general public. To help communicate and eliminate such misrepresentation, we produced a podcast series, SynTalks [link here]. Our podcast series consisted of interviews of professors and graduate students in the fields of medicine, environment and chemical engineering. We also interviewed a few notable public policymakers who are integral in regulating products of synthetic biology and their use in Canada. The first 3 episode on synthetic biology in the world of medicine was released in mid-July. We interviewed Dr. Kathleen Hefferon and Dr. Jennifer Mitchel, who are professors at the University of Toronto, as well as Noeline Subramaniam, a Ph.D. Student. We then released episode 4 and 5 which focused on the role of synthetic biology within the environment and agricultural field. We interviewed Dr. Stockkad a professor at U of T, and Patrick, a BioZone Graduate student. Episode 6 interviewed Jim Louter, the Manager of the Biotechnology Section and Emerging Priorities Division in the Science and Technology Branch at Environment and Climate Change Canada and Valar Anoop (Ph.D.) who is a Senior Biologist in Biotechnology at Health Canada. This episode focused on the ethics and policy surrounding synthetic biology.
“People are easy to sway through mass media, the internet or fake news outlets so people become unsure and uncertain about what the truth really is.” -Dr. Kathleen Hefferon, University of Toronto (Episode One: Medicine)
“Scientists have not nearly been as good at communicating their research as they should be and it’s hard for us to get out of the lab and talk to the people about science” […] “We need to do a better job at it”. -Dr. Kathleen Hefferon, University of Toronto (Episode One: Medicine)
Dr. Hefferon revealed the importance of public communication, eliminating ignorance surrounding genetically modified organisms, and essentially societal integration into scientific operations. This provided us with the affirmation that our outreach and public education programs were advantageous.
“What I like most about what I do is that it’s problem-solving based and that my research is driven by my curiosity and the curiosity of students in my lab. When we discover something new, we get to share it with the rest of the scientific community to advance our collective knowledge, and that’s really exciting.” -Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, Cells & Systems Biology, University of Toronto (Episode Two: Medicine)
Dr. Mitchell reminded us that synthetic biology and its ventures are based on the solution of a problem. For example, our project aimed to solve the problem surrounding the bioremediation of wastewater. The inspiration of our design arose after we discovered the issues the WWTP and mining corporations had for the removal of pollutants and heavy metals from wastewater.
“In the year I’ve been doing my Masters, I’ve been learning more about what’s being done by bacteria, or other microorganisms, for bioremediation of wastewater, and what I’ve noticed is there’s a problem: that people aren’t using a particular mechanism that bacteria can use to absorb and accumulate heavy metals. [...] What I’m trying to do is understand how to use [bacterial] proteins that are able to capture these heavy metals, as a method to bioremediate the wastewater, but also to extract the metals from the wastewater, so we can reuse them later.” -Patrick Diep, Chemical Engineering, University of Toronto (Episode Four: Environment and Agriculture)
Patrick Diep was one of the BioZone Graduate Students who greatly influenced our project. During our BioZone interviews, we had the pleasure of meeting with Patrick and discussing the plausibility and applicability of our idea for bioremediation of wastewater.
“For farmers who started to grow GM crops, the promise has always been economic gain: that they would reduce the cost of production and be more competitive, vis-a-vis competitors. So, there are real economic gains and losses here. The other thing is that, for other people who are not quite so interested in the economic profits of biotechnology, there are concerns about the social and economic implications of this, and the ethical concerns, as well, regarding whether it’s right to tamper with nature [...] there are substantial social, economic, and ethical concerns.” -Dr. Grace Skogstad, Political Science, University of Toronto (Episode Five: Environment and Agriculture)
Dr. Skogstad demonstrated the economic, societal, and ethical considerations of stakeholders, the public, and scientists concerning synthetic biology research and development. During the design and execution of our project, we contemplated all these aspects that have the potential to greatly influence how the public perceives our project and how corporations evaluate our project. Ultimately, we considered the importance of creating a platform that is not only beneficial and effective but is also ethical and safe.
“[The questions we would ask are the following:] What mechanism is being used to do the bioremediation and if an organism, like E.coli, is being used, how was it modified and what new characteristics does it have after the modification? And where does the characteristic come from? We would also look into the possible harm presented to the environment and human health. Could the modified organism have adverse effects on the environment or people who come in contact with the organism?” -Dr. Valar Anoop, Senior Biologist, Biotechnology, Health Canada (Episode Six: Policy)
Dr. Anoop expressed the concerns she had and her department would have for our project. Concerning policy regarding the consequences genetically modified bacteria would have on the environment and public health.
Read our literature review here: [LITERATURE REVIEW]
Section 1: Current Industrial Methods Industry uses chemical, mechanical, and biological methods to separate cells to obtain high-value materials or remove pollutants from water or other aqueous substances.
- Biofuel and Biomass Separation From Algae
- Water waste Treatment
- Gene/Proteins and Properties of Gas Vesicle Formation
- Theoretical Application with Existing Cell Separation Technologies
- Inefficiencies in current industries
- Heavy Metal Extraction
- Antibiotic Extraction