Glyphosate on my plate?
One of the main challenges of the iGEM competition is to find a suitable topic for our project. We wanted to work on something that not only has a huge impact in the scientific world but is also important for the environment and the general public. Due to it's presence in the media and the fact that it's the most widely used herbicide around the world, glyphosate was an early candidate in our brainstorming process. To collect background information about the topic and to understand the opinion of politicians and the public, we made ourselves familiar with journal articles, newspaper articles and media reports. Furthermore, we went to public panel discussions and talked to politicians to understand the impact of glyphosate and to build up the structure of our project.
The usage of glyphosate all around the world is a frequently discussed controversy that suffers from too much false or poorly carried out information published on the internet.
One of the problems concerning glyphosate is its accumulation in the soil and its detection in food items and beverages, such as beer.
Consequently, our first aim was to produce more independent research and to create a rapid test, that can be used by everyone to determine glyphosate concentration in food articles or soil samples.
During the course of our project, we talked to politicians coming from diverse backgrounds. By organizing a panel discussion, visiting schools, creating an interactive information booth, and performing a survey, we tried to interact with the public as much as possible. All of this revealed that one of the main issues is not only the detection of glyphosate but also it's accumulation in the soil and subsequent effects. Consequently, we wanted to adapt our project to the publics needs and tried to find a way to produce bacteria that can not only withstand glyphosate but that are also able to inactivate it.
February - October 2018
Take a look at our Slideshow!
We have collected a lot of pictures along our way through the iGEM project and visualized them within a slideshow: If you want to get a sneak peak into some of our events, feel free to watch through it. Specific and much more detailed entries to each date can be found below- here you will also find continuative links to specific topics, to enhance your knowledge.
Meeting with iGEM Düsseldorf at the VAAM conference
Vroni builds up her basecamp at the German iGEM Meetup Marburg
Our team foto at the DIES 2018 (sports event)
Jump of Joy at the SynBio conference in Landshut
No pain, no strain
"Break a leg"-Rica: She got well soon after her injury from the DIES
Vroni introducing pupils from the Chiemsee Realschule to our project
Marie and Rica with our poster at the masters information day
Vroni gives a poster presentation in Marburg
Exchanging thoughts with other teams at the poster presentation in Landshut
High impact research with actual Roundup products
Marie and Robert are shopping for our team shirts
War-cry at Göttingens DIES sports event
Happy team after a successful masters information day at the University Goettingen
Janek gives a presentation at the III. SynBio conference in Landshut
Panel Discussion: Fritz Günzler: „Glyphosat – Wundermittel oder gefährliches Pflanzengift?"
Early on in our project we tried to find a suitable topic: Out of our brainstorming, glyphosate was one of the most promising candidates we wanted to work with. To receive additional information about the herbicide, to acquire an overview over the opinion of the general public as well as politicians and to get an overview of the magnitude of the controversial discussion, we participated in a public panel discussion hosted by the politician Fritz Günzler, named Glyphosate – miracle cure or dangerous plant toxin? Soon it became apparent, that this question is not easily answered, and a heated discussion arose between politicians and the audience. On the one hand, farmers rely on the very efficient herbicide to produce sufficient amounts of food, while on the other hand, the long-term effects of glyphosate are poorly understood and cause harm to biodiversity. Studies that dealt with the cancerogenity of glyphosate towards humans came to no clear conclusion, leaving a big uncertainty behind. We soon realized, that due to this heated climate in the community, more independent research on the topic is necessary and we prompt decided that this was going to be our topic of choice. If you want to know more about the scientific background of glyphosate follow the link to our Background page. Here you can find out more about glyphosates modes of action and potential ways to achieve a resistance to the total-herbicide.
Team-picture with the politician Fritz Günzler.
April - 13 - 2018
Bringing our project to young students
Our Team-member Vroni with her class.
Our Team-member Vroni with her class.
One of the most important things in science is its educational aspect. Therefore we aim to stay in constant touch with the public, to inform everyone about our project. In this way we receive constant feedback, which we try to directly implement into our project design. We especially want to raise awareness in young children to involve them in research and wake their passion for science early on in life. Therefore, our team member Veronika went to the Staatliche Chiemsee Realschule to present our project to young students and show them the everyday life of scientists. At this point, we already realized that even though Glyphosate is such a prominent topic in the media, the public and especially young people lack a certain, objective and scientific background. Informing the public in an objective and scientific way is one issue that we want to tackle during our project.
April - 14 - 2018
International March for Science 2018
Group picture at the March for Science 2018.
Group picture at the March for Science 2018.
The march of Science is an international mass rally to promote the value of research and science and to demonstrate against "alternative facts”. We felt obliged to take part as the herbicide glyphosate is hugely discussed in the media and several studies were shown to be incorrect or poorly carried out.
If you want to know what studies and newspaper have to say about the glyphosate controversy, use the following links in order to create your own opinion towards the controversial topic: Spiegel online 2015 ; ZEIT online 2016.
Different representatives from the fields science, politics and society debated and allowed the audience to participate in the discussion. Events like this help to raise attention for current research topics just like ours and cast a positive light on science as a whole. So please check the next March for Science to be part of the movement yourself!
April - 17 - 2018
Meeting with the minister for agriculture
Meet and Greet with Barbara Otte-Kinast.
The minister for agriculture of lower saxony Barbara Otte-Kinast gave a presentation about glyphosate and other issues in agriculture at our University. She presented the advantages and disadvantages of using glyphosate in agriculture and its status in society. During the presentation she gave a lot of room for discussions with the audience.
We were very lucky to be able to talk to her about our project after the presentation.
She let us know that working on glyphosate and to produce a rapid test allowing its fast determination is an important step, necessary in the current discussion.
April - 17 - 2018
Microbe Slam at the VAAM annual conference
One of our team members had the incredible opportunity to be part of the Annual Conference 2018 of the Association for General and Applied Microbiology (VAAM). The VAAM consists of approximately 3500 microbiology-oriented scientists and aims to improve the exchange of information and research.
Janek presents his Microbe Slam to the VAAM community.
It was a very nice chance for our team member Janek to be part of such a big convention for the first time in his life (right picture). He got insights into how well-organized projects are constructed from the beginning to the end and was able to talk to scientists from all over the country to discuss our project and plan a successful outcome. As a lot of companies were also present on the conference, we were also able to establish supporting connections with Eppendorf and Biozym. The products provided by them will benefit us big time as our project improves further and further.
Fresh out of the Press: Our BIOspektrum Appearance.
We are all very proud that Janek also participated in this year’s Microbe Slam, where he presented our topic in a fun and extraordinary way and competed against four different young scientists. The participation at the Slam was later recognized in an article of the BIOspektrum magazine (left picture). We are happy to make an impact in the scientific journals and hope to repeat this, as the project progresses. In this way we are able to reach out to the public and generate interest for our project.
Interested in the presentation? You can follow the link to watch the whole performance and leave some feedback on our Facebook channel: Microbe Slam.
May - 29 - 2018
Bier & Brezeln (= beer & pretzel)
Two of our team members presented our project at the Bier & Brezeln event organized by the Fachschaft (student representatives) of Biology of the University of Göttingen. This is a platform that allows to spread research in an interdisciplinary way. It was a huge success as students from diverse departments of the university led an interesting discussion and gave us a lot of input for the further course of our project.
Our team at Bier & Brezeln event.
June - 22 - 2018
Masters information day
Rica presents our iGEM project to an interested group of new students.
We were very busy this weekend. While two of our members went to the German iGEM Meetup in Marburg we presented our poster and work to the new Master students of the Molecular Lifesciences: Microbiology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology and Developmental Biology study program of our University. Through that we inspired the upcoming generation to take part in next years iGEM competition and tought them ways to adress crucial problems to make the world a better place, using synthetic biology.
Staying in touch with the projects of other iGEM teams is important to acquire an overview over the own progress. Therefore, we attended the German iGEM Meetup in Marburg from the 22nd till the 24th of June. Here, we had the opportunity to present our poster to other iGEM teams and thus collect ideas to improve our research process. (right picture) We also looked out to collaborate with the other teams: Specifically, the team of Marburg itself will help us with the protein characterization of the EPSP Synthase, the main target of Glyphosate. Apart from the scientific exchange, we were also able to take a look around the city and form new friendships at the camping site that was well organized by the iGEM Team Marburg (left picture). All in all, the Meetup helped us to take home a big chunk of motivation and a new collaboration partner. A big thank you to the iGEM Team Marburg, which organized this Meetup and took brilliant care of all the participants.
Our basecamp at the local camping site.
Getting to know the projects of other iGEM Teams at the German iGEM Meetup Marburg.
June - 30 - 2018
Interactive Information Booth
Most people would agree that there is too much unfiltered material about glyphosate on the internet. Hence, we wanted to directly talk to the public to check on their state of knowledge and what they really know and think about glyphosate. Therefore, we packed our poster, together with some props and survey sheets and travelled to the Gänseliesel in the heart of Göttingen to uncover the opinion, knowledge and wishes of the people.
Proudly presenting our interactive information booth.
A nice day in the heart of Göttingen to update your knowledge over glyphosate.
This booth might seem small but there were several things to discover. For once, of course, the poster, that helped us to explain who we are and what we do. It also showed the current status of our project.
A general concern about glyphosate is its impact on biodiversity in the soil. Since glyphosate was first introduced as an antibiotic, its accumulation in the soil may also influence the biodiversity of bacteria. There are approximately between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria found in a teaspoon of productive soil. These Soil Bacteria have a diverse set of skills, which allows them to act as one of the greatest “real-life” influencers on earth.
However, most of the visitors had only a narrow idea about what microorganisms are, what they do and where to find them. To illustrate and exemplify with how many different microbes glyphosate may interfere in the soil, visitors could participate in a small experiment, where they could leave their microbial fingerprint on a BHI agar plate. To check the microbial diversity on the hand of each participant we incubated the plates at 37°C over the weekend and published the results on our Facebook page in the folder "Infostand Göttingen". Check out whats on your hand that you can’t see! Small hint: washing your hands with soap for at least 30 seconds helps to fight against infection! You want to know how to properly wash your hands.
July - 12 - 2018
Panel discussion - Glyphosat zum Salat?! - Chancen und Risiken des Herbizids
During our human practice events we realized that most people do not have enough information about the herbicide glyphosate but are very interested in getting to know more about the topic. Therefore our iGEM Team invited to a panel discussion with the topic “Glyphosate on my plate?-Chances and risks of the herbicide” on the 12th of July in the Adam-von-Trott-Saal of the old Mensa in Göttingen which had the perfect ambience to discuss this controversial topic.
Our Team after the panel discussion together with our guests.
The event started with an introduction of our project by our team member Jonas in order to inform the very diverse audience about the iGEM competition, why we are participating, about what glyphosate is, the current state of the research and of course about our project and aim to find a solution to this controversially discussed herbicide.
Afterwards Robert and Marie of our team introduced our four guests (from left to right) Horst-Henning Steinmann of the centre for Biodiversity in Göttingen, Werner Wille of the “CDU” of Göttingen, Achim Hübner of the “Landvolk Niedersachsen” and Harald Wiedemann of “die Grünen” of Göttingen.
The panel started the discussion about the wide application of glyphosate in the agricultural areas of and around Göttingen. Lower Saxony, which Göttingen is part of, is known as the number one state of Germanys agriculture and produces for example almost half of the total german potato yield.
Harald Wiedemann expressed his severe concerns about the biodiversity and the extinction of specific species due to the use of glyphosate and other herbicides. He and his party are also part of the initiative „Stopp Glyphosat“ to reduce the use of a herbicide which long-term effects are not known yet.
Achim Hübner however pointed out that the use of glyphosate is essential in order to guarantee the high amount of yield and the low prices of food in the supermarkets. In addition, he said that we never know all the side effects of the substances that we consume and therefore one cannot forbid only one specific herbicide on speculations.
When our team members asked about an alternative for glyphosate Horst-Henning Steinmann stated that the current alternative to glyphosate are non-chemical methods such as ploughing, this however is more expensive and takes more time. He also said that glyphosate is the cheapest and most effective herbicide available at the moment and pointed out that the side effects of alternative herbicides are also not known yet. However he is also in favour of the reduction of the wide use of glyphosate especially in area where it is not a 100% necessary. Werner Wille agreed with the point of view of Achim Hübner and would see the act of forbidding glyphosate as populist.
After the very diverse and motivated discussion of our guest the audience also asked a few questions. This was very interesting because it was a very versatile audience of students of agriculture, members of the BUND Göttingen and even farmer of farms close to Göttingen. In the end it can be said that even though the panel discussion lasted for one and a half hours there is still much more to talk and discuss about.
The result so far was that there is no alternative at the moment, especially when the people are not willing to pay more for their food in the supermarket, even though the impact of glyphosate on the biodiversity could be severe. All in all the panel discussion was a huge success and we thank all of the participants for coming!
July - 23/25 - 2018
Participating in the third Synthetic Biology conference in Landshut
Synthetic biology is constantly evolving, as new research topics revolutionize the way we look at natural sciences. From newly-found approaches in artificial photosynthesis to finding out, which genes are necessarily required to enable an organism to live, the Third conference for Synthetic Biology in Landshut gave us stunning insights into various areas of research. Of course, we didn't miss the opportunity to present our own project to the fellow scientists, using our poster (right picture) and a presentation (left picture).
Presenting our project to the fellow scientists.
Proudly exhibiting our poster in a dialog with other iGEM teams and researchers.
We were specifically happy to get to know the projects of former iGEM teams, as their presentations will serve us as great inspiration for our own presentation at the Giant Jamboree. The conversation with other iGEM teams from this year motivated us further as the iGEM thought was constantly present at the conference. All in all we are very thankful that we were able to participate in this well organized conference and visit Germanys biggest federal state Bavaria.
Jump of Joy at the third conference of Synthetic Biology in Landshut.
We also took a group photo with all participants of the convention, maybe you can spot every team member (not everyone is wearing the iconic yellow shirt). This picture also occurred in the BioSpektrum journal with a connection to the VAAM, which we know already quite well. We are happy to take part in the research of synthetic biology topics and hope to visit a similar conference soon again in the future.
Group photo in the BioSpektrum Journal.
August - 25 - 2018
Influencing the young minds faster than bacteria
Goettingen offers many possibilities for young scientists to enhance their lab skills and work together as a team. One of these is the XLAB where young students in the age of 17-22 have the opportunity to come together for a month and work in groups on current scientific topics. The future scientists pick up new lab skills and discuss issues, while exchanging their knowledge. This reminded us of our own iGEM project. We took the opportunity to present our topic and get in touch with the students and supervisors to gain some extra opinions on our progress.
Our group joins the XLAB students to give insights into our project.
September - 7 - 2018
Publication in the BIOspektrum
Sneak peak into the BIOspektrum article.
We had the exciting oppertunity to introduce our project to the public by publishing a short article in the Biospektrum journal. With that we not only gave further insights into our project, but we also expanded our audience from the general public to other scientists all over the country, gaining more and more publicity. This underlines that our topic is of enormous relevance particularly in the science community. We are even present on Researchgate as an official scientific team! This helps us big time in the progression of our careers.