Team:FAU Erlangen/Human Practices

iGEM Erlangen

Human Practices

The general public and the scientific community both influenced our iGEM project, while it was our goal to create a benefit from our project for both groups. Learn about our Human Practice activities!

Scientific community

Presentation at a working group at the Chair of Microbiology

After deciding to work with surface layer proteins at the beginning of this year’s iGEM competition, we started to collect experiences and feedback from experts. A presentation was given at a working group of the Chair of Microbiology at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg to inform about the project idea and the first results. The following discussion about the handling of S-Layers yielded valuable insights that helped us to plan our prospective project.

Interview with Prof. Sonnewald

We performed an interview with Prof. Uwe Sonnewald. He calls himself a “grandchild of genetic engineering”, as his doctoral supervisor worked with Jeff Schell, who discovered Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Prof. Sonnewald was involved in the second field test in Germany, in which genetic modified potatoes were cultivated. Concerning the German genetic law, he sees it problematically that the current law is method based. He suggested to focus on the aim of the method and not on the method itself, because methods change quickly and therefore decelerate the authorization of the work. Furthermore, he criticized that methods like CRISPR/Cas are ruled under the genetic law while random mutagenesis (e.g. radiation) is authorized, even if both have the same result in the end. He informed our team about the problems of the industry with the use of genetic engineering and in general about the genetic engineering history. To sum up, through his own experiences, he was able to give us relevant insights into genetic engineering.

Interview with Prof. Koch

Prof. Christian Koch, chair of biochemistry, gave us the opportunity to ask questions about our project and synthetic biology. He informed us about the challenges of improving enzymatic catalyzed reactions. He pointed out that not the diffusion length is the limiting factor, but the turnover from the different educts. This is an important point, which has to be involved in our project. Moreover, he talked about his youth and that he decided to work with GMOs due to his affection towards biochemistry and life itself. He explained the mental awareness towards genetic engineering in the 70s, which was very cautious due to the cold war and potential biological warfare. Back then, nobody could imagine genetic engineering on humans. The purpose of this anecdote was to demonstrate that mental awareness changes quickly and that the spirit of the time is always guiding research. Providing information aubout genetic engineering is really difficult due to the general aversion in Germany. In his opinion, the best chance to make genetic engineering more acceptable is to demonstrate the positive effects and achievements, such as cancer drugs (tumor antibodies).
The output of this interview was a discussion about our iGEM project, an increase of our awareness regarding to the work with GMOs and possibilities how to manage public engagement.

General public

The interaction with the public placed a particular importance in our iGEM project. Our aim was to influence the general public by conducting encouraged discussions, raising awareness towards synthetic biology and creating new incentives relating to science. We got in contact with general public in different ways: Information stand in the city center of Erlangen, Attendance at a local high school, a servey as well as performences in the media. For more infomation see section Education & Engagement.

Integrated Human Practices

The aim was to create a project which contributes an innovative idea and offers a reasonable use for the world. For a thoughtfully planned project, external influences have to be included. Our activities in the context of science and public were mentioned above, but how did they influence our project? How was the public opinion integrated into our work and how was the design of our project affected?

For this, experiences of experts working with S-Layers were collected and integrated into the project at the beginning. By holding a lecture in front of a working group, we received constructive feedback about our ideas, about scientific problems at that time and gathered new impulses for further plans. Our project was also influenced by interviews with special scientists, who gave us deep insights in genetic engineering in general. They also enabled us to look at the historical changes of mental attitude in the public towards this topic and political use of GMOs, which gave us helpful advices about our project.

The progress of our project was also influenced by the public opinion. Discussions at our information desk in the city center demonstrated the critical attitude of the general public towards genetic engineering, which, however, was often based on missing knowledge and prejudices from common media. To tackle these problems, we visited a local high school and elucidated the meaning of genetic engineering and demonstrated its various aspects, e.g. the invention of artificially produced human insulin.

The name of our project “BAM” (=Biocatalytic Active Membrane) was affected by the teenage slang of the high school students. They lead us to the idea to title our project “BAM”, which is a usual phrase in their vocabulary. “BAM” is quite comprehensible and catchy, which makes it perfect for the description of our project.

During the interviews with the experts, our awareness for safety in the lab increased. To transfer the need of lab safety to the public, we designed a game where pedestrians had to fulfil a lab task in a limited time but including all the safety measures (e.g. lab coat, gloves, safety glasses). Subsequently, we informed them about the safety precautions in Germany and their importance.

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