Our approach to Human Practices
“A society that permits biology to become an engineering discipline, that allows that science to slip into the role of changing the living world without trying to understand it, is a danger to itself ” -Carl Woese
Human Practices involves assessing our project in relation to society. As a foundational technology, PixCell has the potential to have wide-ranging impact. When computers were first connected in a network, it eventually led to the creation of the internet. Who could have predicted these wide-reaching effects on society, both positive and negative? Analogously, predicting all possible effects of our technology is equally challenging; electrical-biological interfaces open up a totally new realm of possibilities. When pitching our idea as a means of unifying electronics and synthetic biology, we strived to think about not only the potential applications of the technology but also how our technology could be implemented. We quickly realized the need of communicating with people of different backgrounds as their unique perspectives could help shape potential applications and predict societal impact for our technology.
Our approach for Human Practices, therefore, revolves around the concept of communication. Our goal with Human Practices is to engage with all relevant stakeholders as early and efficiently as possible in order to integrate their feedback into PixCell. To maximize the effectiveness of our communications we have designed the Communications Strategy Guide which we have used help integrate our Human Practice work into our project and outreach. Our reasons for developing this tool are explained in more detail in the Communication tab.
Summary of our Human Practices
Following the guidelines in our Communications Strategy Guide to better communicate with relevant stakeholders, we discussed the possibilities of PixCell with PIs, artists and the public. Through these interactions we developed ideas to apply our technology to develop alternative inducers, fabric printing and biocontainment, respectively. We adapted our project and successfully demonstrated a proof-of-concept for biocontainment; the results were submitted to satisfy one of the criteria for a bronze medal.
Dialogue with potential users of our technology made it clear that the use of toxic redox modulators in our system is a major hindrance for the adoption of PixCell in future applications. This led us to search for alternative redox modulators and resulted in the discovery of PMS. This major shift in our project is documented here.
During iGEM we identified that internal friction in teams is a common issue. We experienced this problem ourselves, and our experience was borne out by a survey that we conducted amongst 67 iGEM members from 14 other teams. To address this issue we developed our team communication app (LTAT) to help improve team communication. Using our team-communication app improved team dynamics and reduced conflict.
We followed the Communications Strategy Guide, in designing and evaluating our outreach events. To appeal as broadly as possible, we commissioned artists to create an exhibition to better demonstrate our project visually. We also showed these pieces at the New Scientist Live! Fair as part of our public engagement. We also created a board game to demonstrate key concepts in synthetic biology in an intuitive way. We hosted a socio-ethics discussion on synthetic biology and gathered potential socio-ethical concerns on our project in the form of feedback.