Team:Manchester/Public Engagement



    Our team used two events to communicate with the public. The first was running a stall at The Manchester Museum Community Festival, with a colouring activity for children to open the topic of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ bacteria. Through this event, we were able to engage with parents and other adults about the topic of synthetic biology being used to create safer food products. We discussed whether our synthetic biology project would be an appropriate solution for combating Listeria contamination. We additionally ran a stall at the science fair held by the University of Manchester for British Science Week where we discussed synthetic biology with school-children and used a base pairing game to explain how transcription and translation occur naturally, and how problems with this process can lead to disease. Through these activities, we raised awareness of the potential of synthetic biology and of the issues associated with its use.


  • Our first outreach activity involved volunteering in the British Science Week 2018 and presenting at the stall "Making medicines with cells".

  • Firstly, we introduced to schoolchildren the concept of DNA and allowed everyone to make their own bracelet 'plasmid' by pairing correct nucleotides.

  • Then, we showed how information in the plasmid is converted to a protein (e.g. insulin). From this we were able to discuss how through using synthetic biology cells can be used to make medicines and other useful products such as safer foodstuffs.


  • We hosted a small stand in The Manchester Museum as part of ‘University of Manchester Community Fest’.

  • We introduced members of a general public to our project idea and asked if they would eat a cheese that contains GMOs if the purpose of GMOs is to detect the pathogenic bacteria. The majority of people showed an interest to our approach and supported the idea saying that they would not mind GM bacteria in cheese if it is safe to eat.

  • Very early in the project design we were considering to put modified E.coli to the cheese as a biosensor but straight after this outreach session we realised that people are aware of E.coli as a pathogen and would prefer L.lactis, known as 'good bacteria', to be integrated into the product.

We hosted a small stand in ‘The Manchester Museum’ as part of ‘University of Manchester Community Fest’. As this was an event aimed at families, we had a colouring activity for children. We asked the children to colour what they think ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria would look like. While the children were engaged with this activity we asked parents questions about their views on GMO-containing cheese. These questions were:

  • Do you like cheese?

  • Is there anything specific about it you enjoy?

  • Do you have any concerns about cheeses? (Particularly to do with health, disease and contamination)

  • Do you take any steps to minimise your concerns about cheeses?

  • What are your feelings regarding genetic modification?

  • What would convince you (or not) to eat GM food?

  • How would you feel about using genetic modification technology to make cheese safer?

These questions yielded a broad range of responses that are summarised below:

Do you like cheese? Is there anything specific about it you particularly enjoy?

43 people responded to this question, with 35 stating that they enjoy cheese products regularly because they like the taste. 4 people stated that they do not like cheese, again due to its taste. 2 respondents stated their indifference to cheese. There was also one lactose intolerant individual and one vegan. From this, we knew that the views we were gathering would be primarily those of cheese consumers.

Do you have any concerns about cheese? (Particularly to do with health disease and contamination)

37 people responded to this question. 22 stated that they had no concerns about eating cheese. 7 were only concerned if they were pregnant. 3 respondents expressed dietary concerns, with 2 further expressing concerns specifically to do with cholesterol levels. 1 respondent each voiced concerns about handmade cheeses only, Listeria contamination and concern only for children.
This showed us that cheese is considered a safe product. On the other hand, people who encountered cheese-related issues among their relatives considered dairy products less safe and are choosing them more carefully.

Do you take steps to minimise your concerns about cheese?

Of the 11 people that responded to this question, 3 took no actions. 3 attempt to limit the quantity they eat. 2 keep it refrigerated. 2 did not eat soft cheeses when pregnant. 1 did not buy handmade cheeses.

What are your feelings regarding genetic modification?

We gained 27 responses to this question which are summarised below:

I try to Avoid GM Products x3
I agree with using GM for health and safety purposes x3
I do not know enough to make an informed choice x3
I do not care if food is GM or not x2
I do not agree with using GM crops for profit but using them for health and safety measures is useful
I am interested in how the laws differ around the world
They seem a good solution to many problems
I disagree with using any GMOs
I do not know anything about GMOs
Is it safe to ‘play’ with bacteria
I am scared of GM
I know that plants are modified to give a better yield
I would not eat GM food
I prefer natural products
I do not mind trying GM products but I would not give them to my child
I feel uncomfortable but would change my mind if they were cheaper

These responses informed us that much of the public are pro-GM if the technology is being used to benefit health, but are less supportive it is simply being used to reduce costs of production. There was less strong opposition than we predicted.

What would convince you to (or not) eat our GM food?

Lower Price of a product x7
If they are better educated on how the technology works x5
The use of a well known ‘good’ bacteria rather than E.coli x4
If the taste remains the same x3
Nothing could convince me x2
A full explanation of how the GMO interacts with the body
If pregnant, will the GMO interact with the fetus?
I would only eat the product if I was pregnant
I would eat the cheese if the GM organisms could be removed before consumption
I would eat the cheese if the system could be put in goats cheese rather than other soft cheese
If there are more people eating such products and they were more common

A significant number of people were supportive of our product if it were not sold at a higher price. Another common trend was a requirement of better education on GM technology to be confident in consuming our product. Possibly the most impactful comment was the trend that people are more happy to consume a GM bacteria that is commensal and well known as it removes much of the uncertainty. At this stage in our project we were planning on using a probiotic stran of E. coli Nissle 1917. However, E.coli is commonly associated with disease in the public and media so a switch to a ‘good’ bacteria would be preferred. From these data we decided to integrate our system into the already present Lactococcus lactis rather than E.coli in order avoid the public fear of E.coli.

How would you feel about using genetic modification technology to make cheese safer? (Sticker chart for children and adults) (0=Would not eat such a cheese. 10=Would eat such a cheese as normal)

From our sticker chart, it can be seen that we gained generally positive responses from the general public about our idea.