Team:HSHL/Human Practices

Human Practices

At iGEM we believe societal considerations should be upfront and integrated throughout the design and execution of synthetic biology projects. “Human Practices” refers to iGEM teams’ efforts to actively consider how the world affects their work and the work affects the world. Through your Human Practices activities, your team should demonstrate how you have thought carefully and creatively about whether your project is responsible and good for the world. We invite you to explore issues relating (but not limited) to the ethics, safety, security, and sustainability of your project, and to show how this exploration feeds back into your project purpose, design and execution.

Interview with Mr. Leisner (LANUV)

Expert Interview with Mr. Leisner from the Ministry for Environment, Agriculture, Conservation and Consumer Protection (LANUV) of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany.

To get some more information about the contamination of the soil in Germany and how to deal with it, we talked to Mr. Leisner. Before working for LANUV he studied horticultural. He is now an expert for agrology/soil science and the filtration of heavy metals out of soil. Talking about our project, we were able to ask him some questions concerning to our project idea, how realizable it is and if there are other options or ideas to approach this problem.

Mr. Leisner, which kind of heavy metals are in the soil of agricultural fields in Germany, especially in our area?

Leisner: "In general, the contamination is getting higher as you get close to cities/industrial used areas. Due to the industry in the past 40-50 years and more and its dust pollution, you can find many heavy metals. But Cadmium and Lead are the most common ones, beside Zinc. But I have to say: Cadmium and Lead are more dangerous than Zinc because Zinc is not toxic for humans."

So, are there already techniques to clean the soil?

Leisner: "There are some techniques, but they are all expensive and difficult, also labor-intensive. There is, for example, the method of removing contaminated soil and replace it with clean one. But this is only for small areas, it is not realizable for agricultural fields. Also, the society concentrated much on the contamination of water and the air, but we did not think about the soil in the past. Another method is to pump out the ground water, use a carbon filter and pump it back. But this does not handle the problem with the soil – so your project idea could be a solution in a few years, since there is no adequate solution yet."

Does the public know about this difficulty in agricultural areas?

Leisner: "Yes, we do – if there are problems of higher concentration of heavy metals we inform the public. We do professional public relation, but it is more about the private citiziens and their garden use than about the agricultural areas and the food. In that case we address the farmers and the chamber of agricultural directly. But when there are problems with the consumer protection, we inform the public, of course. Another point I want to mention now is that there are not only limits for agricultural used areas, there are limits for every place, e.g. for children playgrounds. An interesting fact, not many people know about: There is an information system for substantial soil contamination, not only heavy metals - ( There is plenty (more than thousands) data about the concentration of different substances in the soil. You can select the city or area you want to know something about and then the substance and the system gives you the required data."

Last but not least: Do you think this project could turn out as the soultion?

Leisner: "In general: yes! Since there is no suitable solution for the problem of contaminated soil in our area yet, I think you should follow this idea. You need to calculate how much heavy metals the tobacco plant can hyperaccumulate in one season and how long it will take to clean up the soil. Then you should talk to the farmers and chamber of agriculture, if this is realizable. But in my opinion: it is a great idea and I am curious what the progress of the project and the next years will bring in this discussion and the discussion about GMO plants or organism in general."

A huge thank you to Mr. Leisner and LANUV for having us in Essen and this informative conversation!

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