Team:GreatBay China/Human Practices


Integrated Human Practice

Since our project was finalized with the aim of tackling a profound social issue, we made sure a great variety of opinions and concerns are integrated into the design and each stage of processes. To reduce the number of stray cats in the same time ensuring their safety and privileges requires not only theoretical drafts, but also practical approaches to verify our ideas; At the same time, working on both E.coli and yeast brought us with many problems and challenges that need help from experienced figures. Thus, our project consists of many parts, all of which finalized and adapted as a result of interviews and conversations with stakeholders, pioneers and normal public. Always beware of the impacts and contributions our product could bring to the society (by considering ethics, safety, and sustainability issues), our project evolves over time.

Advice for our project

Dr. Haoqian Zhang

Dr. Haoqian Zhang:

When we first came up with the idea of synthesizing the precursor of active ingredient of catnip, nepetalactol, we faced tremendous difficulties; we don’t know clear applications of nepetalactol and questioned ourselves about the value of it to the society; also, it is quite esoteric for a high school iGEM team to construct genetic circuits inside yeast, which none of our team members have any experience with.

With these questions, we visited Dr. Haoqian Zhang, the CTO of Bluepha Co., Ltd. He confirmed us that the question is not whether it could be applied or not, but is it interesting, and when to get started. Boosting our confidence to move on our project as a science campaign, he presented us with the idea of co-culture. With this design we could effectively give the synthesize our product on the same plate, increasing efficiency and reducing the time spent on production. Besides this, he introduced us with a recent technology: stable promoters of TALEsp. He suggested that it could be used to stabilize and enhance the production of geraniol inside E.coli. His advice was of significant impact in the shaping of our project trajectory, and brought us with the later goal of constructing a TALEsp library.

‘Science is not about the application, but about fun.’ — Dr. Zhang

Dr. Christopher Voigt

Dr. Christopher Voigt:

Having decided to use TALEsp in our project, we were not sure about whether should we apply it to yeast or not. Thus on July 7th, at the 4th Synthetic Biology Youth Scholar Forum, we asked Dr. Christopher Voigt about his opinion on integrating TALEsp into yeast and other technical questions related. Dr. Voigt, the leader of the team who created TALEsp, hinted that since TALEsp sequences are similar to each other, an application in yeast would most possibly trigger the reassemble system of yeast and dysfunction its ability.

Also, in the aspect of E.coli TALEsp, he suggested integrating the circuits to the genome to prevent failure of TALEsp when a large number of bacteria exist (e.g fermenter). When coming into the technique of characterizing TALEsp promoters, we were uncertain of which method to use: GFP or RNA-seq. He clarified that these two techniques are not of much difference, only that RNA-seq is a little more accurate, but at the same time much more expensive. We thus decided a GFP characterization method.

GreatBay_China with Dr. Voigt

To work with yeast is a great challenge to our team. Many information of Yeast remains unclear, yet the most emergence one is that we don’t know exactly the condition to carry out colony PCR. To tackle this problem we sought help from Lou, a graduate student majoring on biotechnology at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. From this conversation, we figured out a way of diluting free colonies in 20mM NaOH for 10min 100˚C before the normal PCR process. Breaking through this technical problem our yeast circuits construction gets to move on.

Dr. Junbiao Dai

Dr. Junbiao Dai:

Our design on experiment involves knock out of 4 enzymes and knock in of 3 enzymes in yeast, and we primarily decide, in the knock out experiments, to use the Hi-crisper technique developed by Junibiao Dai and his team. (further details see our design page) However, after several attempts, we found the technique troublesome: they did not work as demonstrated by the paper.

Also, during the expression stage, we found out that E.coli often dies when our pYES plasmid is transformed, yet yeast often will not carry this plasmid when transformed directly from Gibson product. We thus sought for a chance to interview Dr. Dai and inquired him the problem we faced. He suggested that if Hi-crisper will not work, then a traditional knock out process is recommended to be carried out. Also, for the dying E.coli plight, he hinted that the pYES plasmid with three coding sequences of the enzymes to be expressed might be toxic to E.coli as a whole. The circuits heavies the metabolic burden of E.coli tremendously and leading to their death. Finally, he debugged the yeast issue, saying that Gibson product has a low concentration, and presented a feasible solution of lengthening the homogenous arm to trigger the homogeneous recombination stem of yeast. We adapted his suggestion of knock out sequence one by one.

Dr. Akihiko Kondo

Dr. Akihiko Kondo:

We met Dr. Kondo at the 4th Synthetic Biology Youth Scholar Forum and introduced our project to him, with whom grew very interested. He suggested his point mutation plasmid to us. Due to the lack of time, we did not integrate this suggestion into our project; but we are thankful to his help and appreciate his kindness.


We participated the 4th Synthetic Biology Young Scholar Forum, where we met Dr. Akihiko Kondo. We gained a lot of knowledge and advice there and broadened our scope

Advice for our applied design

Fenghua Li:

Fenghua Li:

We managed to contact a stray cay rescue figure in Beijing, named Fenghua Li. Having pursued this activity for 20 years, first on her own then with her rescue team, she hinted us that stray cats are of extreme alert and is often hard to capture. In order to save more stray cats and to eliminate the future population of them, the process of TNR (Trap, Neuter, and Release) is essential.

This reminds us of a construction of a ‘Kitty wonderland’ (KW) to which cats are attracted when our nepetalactol is placed in, and which can aid the work of the rescue team. Besides that, acting as a household, if possible, to stray cat population. Associating with our project of nepetalacol, the proposal not only suggests a way of applying our project, but also brings benefit to the whole society by eliminating the population of stray cats. From then on, our first draft and prototype of this device are proposed, and the campaign of our hardware begins.

This video tells the real story between Ms. Li and GreatBay_China, it starts with Rocky on his way to interview Aunt Li and ends with Aunt Li’s future expectations and how we helped her.

GBC Documentary P0

The stray cats are indeed a non-negligible problem in many parts of the world, bringing in serious outcomes and the current solutions to it are not very efficient. To know more, please check the next episode.

Rescue Team:

Rescue Team:

To improve our KW, we decided to construct a 3D model; but whether is this device really aiding the works of rescue teams or not, or if it's but a burden to them, remains unanswered. Thus a few weeks later we managed a thorough online interview with the leader of the rescue team of Ms. Fenghua Li, Dachui, and introduced for the first time our thoughts of this KW to the stakeholder. To our surprise, this design was much approved by Dachui and other team members, and consolidated our will of materializing the KW.

Advice for our hardware

Our first proposal of Kitty Wonderland consists of an overall structure made of tent and canvas that is convenient for transport after cat is captured; An auto-close door to capture the cat and facilitate the later neuter process; and a small chamber inside the tent that contains our genetically modified co-culture plate of E.coli and Yeast to release nepetalactol, which attract stray cats. This prototype changes as we develop further communications with specialist designers, cat-rescue pioneers, and stockholders, all of whom have advice that we integrated into our hardware design.

Yu Li

Yu Li:

When the first draft was schemed, we sought professional help from specialists in X.factory, Shenzhen’s first and leading maker space since 2011. By then we were extremely unconfident with our design, and kept on delaying the finale of our 3D model. When we talked through our situation with Li Yu, a designer in X.factory, she urged us to carry out our first prototype and put it in practice.

‘Make it work, make it fast, make it beautiful.’ —Yu Li

Although we did not follow our first prototype when materializing the Kitty Wonderland, her advice to a large extent prompt our process in hardware construction.

Yue Wu

Yue Wu:

When the first draft was schemed, we sought professional help from specialists in X.factory, Shenzhen’s first and leading maker space since 2011. By then we were extremely unconfident with our design, and kept on delaying the finale of our 3D model. When we talked through our situation with Li Yu, a designer in X.factory, she urged us to carry out our first prototype and put it in practice.

To remove this liability and improve safety factors, we finalized our cat-attracting system as a bottle of extracted essential oil and a fan to spread the odor that obviously increases the safety and ethical factor.

Safety issues have always been our first consideration; since we were, then, planning to use a plate with living organisms in, the device must be constructed deliberately and safely to prevent any leak possible. One of our public engagement presented the answer to us. On July 6th, our first presentation, also being our first event facing the public, took place at X.factor. This presentation, free in the boundary of age, background, or academic level, had brought us waves of brand new ideas that all enlightens us with revolutionary designs. Yet one of them, coming from a university student majoring in psychology, remained distinctively important and profoundly impactive:

‘We all concerns of safety affairs; So, instead of using living organisms, I would suggest a cell-free construction’ — Yue Wu

John Henry

John Henry:

After the presentation, we consulted a hardware designer in X.factory about his opinion on our design. John Henry rejected our initial plan of a tent and canvas, assuring us that the transportation of the whole house would be inconvenient and troublesome; plus, an unstable structure of cat house would not serve well as a permanent household. Also, he hinted that a cat house for capturing and living should be low profile, not obvious, and functional.

He thereby insists wood as the building material which provides a safe environment, sustainable residential area, and operational structure. Following his idea, we thus determined the building material and started our materializing campaign. This design bestowed a greater sustainability to our product, since now we are using a long-lasting and sediment material for constructing, which enhances the safety of household provided to cats. For further design and construction, see product design.

Video: we collaborated with professional designers in a maker space—X factory to consolidate our design of the ‘kitty wonderland’. We have made several improvements.

GBC Documentary P3

But what about the safety concerns? Please check the next episode. The previous episode is about connecting out lab project to stray cat rescue.

Hui Huang

Hui Huang:

Seeking possible improvements, we interviewed the leader of SSAPA (Shenzhen Small Animal Protection Association), Mr. Huang. As a pioneer of protecting animals who possess 3 years of stray cats rescuing experience, Mr. Huang reminded us of a phenomenon that none of us had ever thought of:

‘Cats will fight back wildly after being captured. Sometimes hurting themselves severely.’ — Mr.Huang

This raises our alert as the safety of cats are unconsciously threatened. Again, a change is introduced to our KW, which discards its auto closed door, and replaced with a surveillance camera and remote control door. By this course, we can detect whether is cat attracted inside the house, and thereby to close the door or not. Some other improvements are made in order to enhance the safety level of our product; details could be found in both our safety form and applied design page. (See Safety) Such improvement lately allowed us to conduct our final investigation of the behavior of cats smoothly.

Public opinion

With the design of cat house basically decided, we managed a tester made of cupboards. In order to picture a comprehensive impact our product could bring to the whole society, at September 1st, we brought the tester to an adopting festival hosted by ‘Shenzhen pet league’ in order to seek opinions of the wide public and allow a reasonable inference on how our product would impact the society. By interviewing passengers and other participants on the idea of placing our KW in communities, we found out that most people consider this activity with approval, while others’ main concern is the safety of cats, which we have been working on to assure for a long time.

We brought our final version of Kitty Wonderland to a makers fair and held out public engagement with. See further details in our public engagement page.

Government opinion

To verify the practicality of our Kitty wonderland, our team draw out a plan of investigating the behavior of stray cats to Kitty Wonderland. Confident in what we have already studied, one last step is to receive permission from governing bodies. One of our team members carried out a close interview to the multiple governing bodies related to the location of our Kitty Wonderland. This includes: Shenzhen Agricultural Science and Technology Promotion Center, Urban management bureau, street offices, community management office and residential estate management office. Among them, the urban management office gave specific advice that we need to ask permission to deploy our hardware, we should ask the administrator of a very area where we plan on placing our cat house. Though not all of those governing bodies gave clear concur to the put in of our Kitty Wonderland, the law enforcement team and Shenzhen Agricultural Science and Technology Promotion Center did. The Promotion Center suggests that the Chinese government has no regulations about the GMO (genetically modified organism) part of our project, and the main concerns of the governing body is biosafety. The rest of the governmental offices encouraged our project by providing us contact information of relating organs.

The order which we interviewed the relating governing bodies.


Having conducted all these research listed above, we can draw some conclusions.

First of all, a hardware like “the Kitty Wonderland” is something very needed by the animal rescue teams. From dedicated individuals to animal protection association officials, the same problems of high alertness of the feral cats preventing the effective execution of street animal managing measures like TNR kept being reported. And it was the very key impeding the rescuing of feral cats.

However, the incorporation of synthetic biology into such a hardware requires careful and sensible design, in which biosafety was the top concern. People are worried by the fact that genetically engineered microorganisms would be placed somewhere outside the laboratory. So we were then aware that in real application scenarios, even if we are to use nepetalactol produced by microbes, we could only use the aseptic nepetalactol extraction produced.

Moreover, since the hardware is to be placed in the public area, a number of other designs for practicability are also needed. We have to make the hardware durable in all kinds of environment, and appealing for cats. We must also pay attention to how to prevent vandalism towards the cat shelter, which is to be achieved by public education on respecting and caring for animals.

The government has either encouraged nor discouraged the placement of cat shelter, but we were informed that whether we could actually place the cat shelter in the future is dependent on the opinions of individual management. So far, all managements we inquired have supported this idea.

We are also aware through conversations with multiple organizations including iGEM HQ and Safety Committee that at this moment we are not yet prepared to conduct the animal experiment. So we followed this instruction and have not performed any test using cat attractants like catnip.