Team:British Columbia/Human Practices

This year, the theme of our Human Practices endeavors was altering public perception of genetic engineering. In addition to acquiring input from established academics and leaders in industry regarding the laboratory component of the project, we decided to write an investigative journalism piece on the attitudes people have towards science, and host workshops for high school students by partnering with Geering Up, a local non-profit organization. To best convey what we gained from our interviews, we adapted and used the AREA framework as described by the University of Exeter:

ANTICIPATE: What we hoped to gain from the interview

REFLECT: How information from the interview can be applied to our project

ENGAGE: Overview of what was discussed during the interview

ACT: Our next steps that were influenced by the interview


Masters student working with Bally Lab on the relationships between flavonoids and cancer growth.

A: When meeting with Kent we anticipated to receive advice about troubleshooting our project and building on what Dr. Yadav mentioned to us. We provided the graduate student with our previous work and researched his background which was working with flavonoids and using it for cancer research. Thus, we were anticipating to receive a great sum of knowledge on perfecting our project.

R: The meeting was informative and positive though not necessarily helpful directly to troubleshoot. However, in the Human Practices team, it was deemed very helpful because we learned a lot about other aspects the project could pertain to.

E: Kent Chen explained to us that flavonoids are a natural product industry, is anti-inflammatory and has varying amount of hydroxyl group thus affecting its efficacy of producing its function fully. He gave us advice on understanding the process of turning a compound into a marketable drug as we could test in tissue culture against cell line and see if it is potent then proceed do it in-vivo and put it in clinical trial. Additionally, we were informed more about flavonoids and how usually when produced industrially it is from plant extracts. We were also given basic information about the anti-inflammatory molecule of flavonoids itself and how adding liposomes help make the drug more ingestible. As well, Kent Chen told us about how E. coli can export and uptake flavonoids like naringenin so we are able to understand this background process.

A: We will be meeting with Dr Huxham of UILO (University-Industry Liaison Office) to discuss various routes for industrial application. We will contact certain industrial companies such as Virogen and ESSA (a biotechnology company that works on the development of small molecule drugs for cancer treatment)

UBC professor and founder of research group BioFoundry - creates biosynthetic enzymes using metabolic pathways.

A: What we anticipated from this interview was to speak with Dr. Yadav about our research project of creating a microbial co-culture and receive some advice on if there is anything in the project that may not work as planned and if there is something we are able to do to recuperate that. We were also anticipating certain aspects of our project such as our biosensor to not function as we have had certain trouble understanding how the biosensor would function.

R: Meeting with Dr. Yadav allowed us to reflect on our project as there were aspects that inherently E. coli has that might not work when we try to genetic manipulate them to work for our project. This meeting was very positive and knowledgeable. We walked out feeling inspired and very motivated to continue working troubleshooting.

E: Dr Yadav told us that we are able to us his HPLC (high-performance light chromatography) machine to quantify our product of Kaempferol. Additionally, he gave us advice on patenting and how we would proceed if we were to patent this optimizing production co-culture. Furthermore, Dr. Yadav reminded us that we need to compare rates of our first and second strain as if the two strains don’t grow at the same rate that means there is a lot of heavy hydroxation machinery and there would be a lag with the production for which we need an inhibitor (Gp2) to increase the rate of the resultant. If the rates were equal we wouldn’t need an additional factor. Also, we were told to find the dissociation constant as we want high kb to have enough naringenin production. As well, we would need to test out if naringenin, FdeR and GfP system is robust as well as if Gp2 can effectively inhibit bacterial growth. Over engineering our strain → biosensor team.

A: We have now contacted Dr. Bohlmann and Dr. Rosado to meet with them to ask more questions about our project. We are also meeting with a graduate student of Dr. Bally, Kent, tomorrow at the Cancer Agency.

Senior Scientist at ViroGin Biotech.

A: We contacted Dr. Murad for an interview because we were hoping to learn about the drug development process and what is involved in communicating science to investors. His work involves developing novel therapeutics for cancer treatment so were were anticipating that this would give us insights into potential directions to take our project in the future. We are trying to produce Kaempferol, a compound with observed anti-cancer effects. Consequently, we were curious about what would be required to further develop this compound as a cancer therapeutic.

R: Dr. Murad gave us a lot of useful information about the general process of bringing oncological therapeutics to market. He did not go into detail about our specific compound but did give us a very good general testing/development pipeline that most compounds would follow while being brought to market. He also gave us good general advice about science communication. This interview helped us understand the bigger picture of drug development beyond simple proof-of-concept tests.

E: To start, Dr. Murad led us through a simplified drug development approach. He recommended looking up the patent landscape to see whether an idea is legally feasible. Next, he advised researching who is working on similar ideas. If an idea were popular or unheard of it probably would have a low chance of success. The ideal situation would be to find a niche that’s unique but not too competitive or unheard-of. If no one else is working on similar ideas, that may because their initial investigations were unsuccessful and unpublished. Following this, he recommended looking through the literature for how easy the compound is to work with and whether it is water-soluble or fat-soluble. These details would affect your plan for the drug’s delivery. With this background information, the next step would be to perform in vitro experiments on a large number of cell lines including toxicity assays. This would allow you to identify the most promising ones and proceed with them in xenograft animal models. In this set of experiments, you would test the efficacy, toxicity, biodistribution, pharmacokinetics, and organ function of treated animals. At this point, if all previous steps had been successful, you would apply to make your compound an investigational new drug in the regional body of your country of interest. If this application were successful, you would proceed to clinical trails, of which there are 3 phases. These trials are generally extremely expensive and to move from phase 2 to 3, most groups require a large company to act as a sponsor due to the phase’s otherwise prohibitive cost. In phase 1, you would perform toxicity tests in humans and identify the dose to use in further experiments. Phase 2 would test efficacy in a small sample and phase 3 would test efficacy in a large sample. If your drug was successful in all of these phases, you could then apply to bring your drug to market. Overall, this interview emphasized how long and arduous of a process it is to bring a new therapeutic to market. Outside of drug development, Dr. Murad emphasized the importance of tailoring your speech to your audience (including investors). He also expressed that people outside of science often don’t have a good idea of what a scientist’s average workday looks like. In his view the starting idea of a project is important, but you have to package it well and put it in context to make it meaningful.

A: This interview identified and crystallized the difficulty of developing therapeutic drugs for our team. In our earlier interview with Dr. Yadav, he mentioned that our product had two valuable parts: the product and the system. In otherwords, both Kaempferol production and our coculture system were key selling points of our project. The interview with Dr. Murad showed us that it would be exceptionally difficult to examine Kaempferol’s potential as a drug in the context of a 1-2 year iGEM project. With this in mind, we will instead try to highlight the usefulness of our coculture system.

the editor of the science section of the Ubyssey. B.A. student, interests in political science and economics.

A: When going into the interview the UBC iGEM team anticipated that we would receive information about how we approach making our own journalism piece for our iGEM project and any tips and tricks from a science journalist who has varying experiences in curating a piece through interviews, e-mails, and parsing through appropriate research articles. We were also wanting him to provide us information about how to interview other individuals in the science field and how we would accurately and precisely receive the information we need through an interview and efficiently conduct several when writing our journal piece.

R: Interview James was extremely insightful as he provided several pieces of advice on creating an article. This interview allowed us to pause and understand where the navigation of our journal article was going to. As he emphasized public interest, our main reflection from this interview was the aspect of enticing the public in terms of our hook and our title. This interview served as a fundamental step in producing a journal article about our iGEM project.

E: Throughout our interview we were given tips to alter our approach of journalism. Firstly, he introduced a new method of writing which is called “Front Loading”. Front Loading is using exciting and important information in the introduction of the article and allowing information that does not directly pertain to the article at the conclusion. Essentially he described it as writing an article with the hope that readers read until the end, but the expectation that readers will not. Therefore, we were amazed to learn that articles incorporate marketing tactics to serve the information to the appropriate readers. Additionally, James informed us about how to appropriately approach contacting individuals within a scientific field in hopes of writing an article about them. He mentioned several probing questions if the conversation is stagnant and how to direct it if the conversation is going on a tangent. This was extremely informative to us because before this interview, when conducting interviews there were patches in the interview that were uncomfortable and/or hard to overcome. Thus, the few pointers he provided us was definitely appreciated.

A: We will use the advice James Vogl provided us and use that when constructing our journalism piece. Additionally, we are able to transfer this knowledge to the next year iGEM teams if they want to curate a an article outlining their project. Finally, when writing our wiki this serves as a great stepping stone as we are able to apply certain writing tips James shared with us to the wiki page.


UBC professor at Sauder School of Business, Marketing and Behavioural Science Division

A: We reached out to Dr. White in hopes of gaining insight into how social media, celebrity culture, and the internet in general influences the marketing of pseudoscience products and consumers’ choices. A specific example we wanted to discuss was Goop, which is a personal health company founded by Gwyneth Paltrow, whose products are based on shoddy scientific principles that have been repeatedly debunked.

R: Dr. White’s response helped to give our journalism article more direction. She quickly pointed out that a lot of our questions demanded broad, complex answers that could fill multiple textbooks. In the end, we honed in on biases people have, and how they can shape people’s perceptions of the science behind marketed products, as well as how to decrease the impact their biases have on their decision making.

E: Dr. White gave us three main ways that people’s biases can lead them to believe in the efficacy of dubious products. Firstly, they’re inclined to believe from the start that the product will work for them, simply because they want it to. Additionally, confirmation bias plays a role as the consumer preferentially seeks information supporting only their perspective. As well, people want to “fit in”, and companies can exploit this by buying likes and views on social, and hiring influencers to promote products. In order to combat biases, a person has to understand the mechanism behind the bias, which can help them avoid the particular pattern of thought.

A: We wanted some more information on biases towards sciences held by the general public, so we contacted Dr. Steven Heine. Additionally, we contacted James Vogl to learn about how to write better interview questions.


UBC Psychology professor who studies people's attitudes towards science and with some focus on genetics

A: Before the interview the team was anticipating on understanding the science behind pseudoscience, why people tend to have a generalized stereotype about certain aspect of science and how we can change this stereotype all relative to Dr. Heine. Additionally, we anticipated the information that he would have given us to serve as a background knowledge when writing our journalism piece because we are able to understand the public’s point of view when reading a scientific article.

R: We found that the information given to us by Dr. Heine wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Though he touched on the basics of pseudoscience, he did not go in detail about how this may affect the wavering public interest. Nevertheless, he was extremely knowledgeable about how to change the common misconception of pseudoscience and what the main factors is. All in all, the interview provided us information that we carried when executing our written portions of our human practices element.

E: A number of the iGEM team went over to Dr. Heine’s office to speak with him about his take on pseudoscience. Our first large discussion was about how people curate an idea of science and how this leads to pseudoscience. Dr. Heine explained to us that it is natural human habit to categorize everything. Thus, when categories begin to merge together we are uneasy about the essence of the thought and examples of this is transgenic vs cisgenic modification. Our next big discussion was about how we can stray people away from believing in this certain idea of genetics and he informed us that people think of genes as having a different influence on your behavior as your experiences. Interestingly, he claims that the general public have this preconceived notion that that genes are unavoidable thus should not be altered with and is a detrimental impact to society. Heine suggested that if we wanted people to leave this old mentality and support synthetic biology that we should target the public using the same medium that targets the public and feeds it negative information. This would be through social media. He told us that we should make videos, advertisements and common posters that serve to correctly and directly to the public rather than incorrectly and subconsciously be served.

A: Using this information we will write our journal article keeping in mind that there are preconceived notions about synthetic biology therefore when trying to attract readers we should allow time beforehand to advertise and inform the public with correct information and introduce the benefits of this science field. Additionally, we will be talking to James Vogl, a science editor so we are able to get a different perspective on how to construct an article.