When our team members approached the public to talk about synthetic biology and our project we faced an unanticipated barrier. A good number of people were not only unaware of recent developments in the field that make synthetic biology possible; but also could not speak or understand the language, most scientific research is communicated in: English.
India is a diverse country with 22 official languages and only 12.18% of the people understand English (2001 census). Synthetic biology is a recent and unique field that can invite several ethical questions and therefore public engagement is of the essence. For effective public involvement, we need the audience to understand the science behind synthetic biology. Hence we decided to design an introductory course on the basics of SynBio in several Indian languages.
The graph doesn't depict anything under English Speakers because the number of first language English residents is 2,00,000 or 200,000; too few to be depicted on a million-to-one scale.
Source: Indian Census, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India
But the need for a Language Project ran much deeper, as we soon realised. Science in general- and biology in particular- are relevant to every person. The inquiry of how life came to be and our quest to understand and deal with its elegant complexity must be inclusive and universal. India is a vast country that has never shown a dearth of brilliance and potential. However, most of the times, its inhabitants just...happen to not speak or be comfortable with English. This introductory course on synthetic biology (originally in 9 major languages spoken in India) aimed at lay people of all age groups and all walks of life, is our humble contribution to the ever-growing revolution of bringing science to all.
To make The Language Project easy to access and document, we developed a website. Find it here: The Language Project
The languages we’ve made content available on so far are Bengali, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu.
We believed that we could make a significant impact by generating content in vernacular languages, hence began the journey of the Language Project. We decided to make videos. Our enthusiastic team members started with off making hand-drawn images of diagrams, then we made audio clips and finally stitched these together to make the videos. After multiple edits and drafts, gaining valuable feedback along the way we decided to release our videos on YouTube. Since then Language Project has taken off. We began with 9 Indian Vernacular languages, now we have content in 26 different languages collaborating with 13 other iGEM teams for 11 foreign languages. Our goal is to make the general public aware of basic ideas of genetics and synthetic biology and hopefully generate enough interest to make people excited about the prospects of science. This we believe will promote fruitful discussion between educators, researchers and stakeholders.
Potential Reach of our Language Project
Outreach and Feedback
- Feedback from our viewers
IIT Madras Alumni
ITMAA Sangam - Confluence for Impact was a one-day event organized by IIT Madras alumni association to bring thought leaders under one roof. Many famous personalities graced this event, including Rakesh Sharma, India's first astronaut, Kiran Bedi, India's first woman IPS officer, and many others. The event consisted of lectures and talks by thought leaders from different fields.
Around 1000 alumni visited this event. We took this as an opportunity to interact with people and let them know of our project. We got an opportunity to discuss the Language Project initiative, our wet lab project ADaPtat1on and software ChassiDex. We also got to bust myths and misconceptions about Genetic engineering and modification. Through these interactions, we realized that a huge number of people have misconceptions about genetic modifications and that we should work harder at spreading information about topics which involves a lot of public attention yet has been conveyed in a partial light. We benefited a lot from this event. We got to attend lectures given by a diverse and successful panel of people. We got the opportunity to network with the alumni and share our project and initiatives with them. We interacted with H.R. Mohan, a senior member of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). He was impressed by our projects and invited us to write about iGEM and science communication in the coming IEEE newsletter ( to be published on 20th October 2018).
IndiaBiosciences, based in National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore is an organization that serves as a platform for networking for researchers, bringing research to the educators and public, support science communication and popularization and enable discussions about science and policy. it's own words, "IndiaBioscience aims to increase the visibility of science in society, by being a hub for policy discussions, science communication, and as an aggregator of information". We were recently invited to join a forum of science communicators from India. We were induced in the wide network of science communicators of India. We are also going to publish an article about science communication in their newsletter and highlight our journey of science communication. The Indiabioscience is going to publish the article in November 2018.
Our crowdfunding initiative helped us put forth our project in front of the public. We also learned how to put across our projects in a way that makes it more accessible to the public. We were able to crowdsource 9,800 rupees with the crowdfunding. "The very best to all you budding synthetic biologists of India, make us proud!" Comment by one of the donors
2)TOI article: We have got an opportunity to get a detailed article on The Times of India's education newsletter.
3)IITians for Villages is an organization that aims to implement projects for rural development. We have planned to collaborate with them to access villages in the Tamil Nadu and Telangana in the month of December. Through this collaboration, we plan to reach out to farmers and understand how we can help accessing information for them easier.