In line with the collaborative nature of scientific work, the team worked with three other teams to build better projects. We helped the Notre Dame Collegiate high school team with running imperative assays for their project and assisted with their graphic design. Collaboration with the University of Lethbridge team aided both teams in the development of their projects and determined direct applicability of each project into the other. Cooperation with the Queens Canada team provided us with advice on some of the technical aspects of our project’s progression.
By engaging with three main impact groups: researchers, students, and the public, we were able to communicate our project and address concerns surrounding synthetic biology in the community. We began our public engagement adventure with a faculty talk outlining our project plans to researchers at the U of C. Through the summer, we engaged with high school students by creating a curriculum and lesson plan, and gave a graphic design workshop to an iGEM team in need. Last but not least, the general public was engaged through public science events and a meeting with spiritual leaders in our community. Additionally, attendance at conferences provided opportunities for collaboration and valuable advice from synthetic biology entrepreneurs and iGEM alumni.
Our journey towards a safer gene therapy was shaped by the exploration of the societal context in which our project exists. Snip, Equip, Flip evolved over time through careful consideration of the project’s applicability to current research, ethical debates, religious views and established public opinions.
Addressing foreseeable societal concerns, our system was designed with an ex vivo, non-viral approach. However, we found through meeting with the Spiritual Care Advisory Committee at Alberta Health Services that we had not yet explored other issues, such as the alteration of natural order by enhancement, or cultural eradication. Within a strictly therapeutic context, Snip, Equip, Flip’s implications as a biotechnology opens the door to a world of poorly defined regulations and safety concerns that we as undergraduate students were not equipped to handle.
Discussions with Dr. Ian Lewis and Dr. Walter Glannon guided our team to consider framing our project in a research context. By reworking our project to be a foundational tool to biological advancement, we are faced with fewer ethical issues and can expand the reach of our project beyond human genome modification.