Human Practice silver

More or less, we may meet the smokers sometime, somewhere - on the street, in the restaurant, even at home . None of team members in our team like this kind of experiences, because of not only bad smell but also health concerns. Therefore, we were thinking if we could make a bio-machine to remove the smoke smell as well as harmful ingredients from the cigarette so as to protect non-smoker from the second-hand smoke, and here was the initial idea of our project.

In order to confirm the meaning of this research and specify the product design, we have done the Human Practice (HP) research after a series of brainstorming. Our HP research was consisted by three part: background investigation, survey to general public and experts interview.

Research purposes

1) Whether smoking control is a consensus for the majority of the society

2) What can we do for smoking control based on synthetic biology

Background investigation

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is a treaty adopted by the 56th World Health Assembly held in Geneva, Switzerland on May 21st 2003. The treaty came into force on February 27th 2005. It had been signed by 168 countries and is legally binding in 181 ratifying countries. [1] The FCTC is a supranational agreement that seeks "to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke" by enacting a set of universal standards stating the dangers of tobacco and limiting its use in all forms worldwide.[2]

China signed the FCTC on November 10th 2003 and officially joined FCTC on August 28th 2005. On May 1st 2010, China officially implemented a smoking ban in Beijing, which stipulates that 10 types of public places, including restaurants, Internet cafes and gymnasiums, will completely ban smoking. December 29, 2013, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has required leading cadres at all levels to abide by the smoking ban regulations in public places and to set an example with practical actions. On November 24, 2014, China first proposed to Formulate administrative regulations to comprehensively control tobacco across the country. [3] On March 2018, National Health Commission of People’s Republic of China was found, who are going to lead the tobacco control in China. [4] [5]

According to the Report of Health Risk from Smoking in China, there are more than 300 million smokers in China and about 750 million non-smokers face with risks from second-hand smoke; every year, more than 1 million people dead are caused from smoking-related illness. [6] Moreover, comparing the United States and China, there is a very strange phenomenon: about 85% of American women with lung cancer are smokers, while in China, more than 80% of female lung cancer patients never smoke! And second-hand smoke is a clear carcinogen. [7]

Recently, more than more citizen in China began to protect themselves from second-hand smoke through law, In June 2017, when college student Li took the K1301 train, she found passengers even train attendants smoking on the train. So she took the Harbin Railway bureau to court. On June 25, 2018, the Beijing Railway Transport Court made a first-instance judgment, and it was illegal to set up a smoking area on the train. The Harbin Railway Bureau requested that the smoking items on the K1301 train be dismantled within 30 days .On the first day of the effective date of the judgment, at 10:15 am, the K1301 train became the first ordinary train that formally completely ban smoking on it. [8]

Therefore, United Nation and governments around world, including Chinese government, have reached extensive consensus tobacco control (TC) and second-hand smoke (SHS) problem. And in China, TC and SHS have been very serious health issues even social problems.


[2] Brandt, Allan M. The Cigarette Century: the Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America. New York: Basic, 2007.







Public survey

Based on the background investigation results we made a questionnaire, which was focus on smoking especially second-hand smoke issue as well as the people’s confidence on our synthetic biology project.

We handed out more than 200 paper and electronic questionnaires to general public. The respondents are almost half male and half female (49% vs 51%) and most of them are 35 year-old and up (43% for 35-45 and 29% for 45 and up). There are not any occupation that has significant preponderance.

According to the information collected from survey, we found the overwhelming majority of respondents have concerns on second-hand smoke. More than half of the respondents have family members who are addicted to smoke (see. Figure 1) and 98% of the respondents point out that they are inevitably exposed to the second-hand smoke (51% often and 47% sometimes, see Figure 2). There are no pro-smoking advocates, and only 29% respondents think smoking is acceptable. In addition, everyone feel dissatisfied about passive smoking and the non-smokers can hardly avoid the harm derived from cigarette. “I hate smoking, but why I cannot keep away from the dangers of smoking?” A man complained.

Moreover, we found that the public has general understanding of the harm of second-hand smoke and nicotine (99.4%), as well as relevant diseases caused by hazardous substance. However, the pubic is not familiar with synthetic biology ----- half of interviewees heard the term for the first time. Therefore, we decided to advertise relevant knowledge by holding some public education events.

Surprisingly, 84% of respondents support to utilize technology about synthetic biology to remove second-hand smoking though they actually do not understand synthetic biology. (Figure 3) Besides, most of respondents have positive expectations about its potential economic value. This result really encouraged us to continue our project. The removal of second-hand smoke is just a beginning: at the same time, synthetic biology also offers more opportunities for human to process exhaust gas pollution and promote environmental protection. "The future is promising," as we anticipate.

In conclusion, we confirmed the severity of second-hand smoke problem and proved the potential huge value of the research project. Furthermore, the public attitude to the solution that we address the second-hand smoke based on synthetic biology is positive.

Experts interview

In order to better address the problem and improve the product design we interviewed some professionals and experts in the related fields.

1)Prof. Hu Baolan, deputy dean of College of Environmental and Resource Sciences,Zhejiang University.

Ecologic building Professor Hu Baolan

Prof. Hu told us that nicotine not only spreads through the air and the burning of cigarettes, but also sinks into the water and soil from neonicotinoid (nicotine pesticide) , we found our research may have wider application potential besides second-hand smoke control. She also recommended Prof. Lv Zhenmei from College of Life Science, Zhejiang university, whose research interests are more specialized in nicotine and relative fields.

2)Prof. Lv Zhenmei, Institution of Microbiology, College of Life Science, Zhejiang University.

She kindly accepted our interview and gave us many useful information about nicotine.

Prof. Lv Zhenmei and teammate during interview

a) General introduction on characteristics of nicotine

Nicotine is the most abundant alkaloid in tobacco plants. According to different particle sizes of solid waste, its content in tobacco waste is about 15.7-32.5 mg/g dry weight. In addition, nicotine is free to pass through the blood-brain barrier and is listed in the Toxics Release Inventory by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as early as 1994.

b) Principal of nicotine degradation

The good hydrophilia of nicotine enables it to diffuse in the environment through soil and water, which is harmful to human health and environment. Although nicotine has certain cytotoxicity, it is easy to be decomposed into small molecules and detoxified by microorganisms.

c) Existing nicotine detection and degradation technologies

Nicotine is mainly detected through HPLC, with the detection limit of millimole level. At present, there are primarily four degradation pathways, all of which are for the purpose of biodegradation.

d) Application of nicotine detection and degradation technologies

At present, these technologies are not sensitive enough for the detection of nicotine in the laboratory. Hence, it is difficult to detect the trace of nicotine in the environment. Fortunately, bioremediation technology has been successfully applied in the centralized treatment of the wastewater containing high concentration of nicotine in tobacco production enterprises, while the treatment of mixed waste containing multiple pollutants under low temperature needs to increase efficiency and the detection technology of trace nicotine in the environment also needs to be improved.

The development of nicotine detection technology can accurately monitor the nicotine content in the environment, the nicotine degradation, and repair process. Moreover, the development of degradation technology also strengthens the repair process and raises the nicotine repair efficiently.

e) Suggestion on our research project

“When I was studying the function of a gene of nicotine-degrading bacteria, I often encountered the problem that the heterogenous expression could not be successfully expressed. Finally, I improved the efficiency of heterogenous expression by changing the host and changing the conditions of heterogenous expression.” Said by Professor. Lv. “I think the next step was to think about how to translate the response of the promoter to nicotine into a physical signal that could be easily detected. That's very beneficial to most of studies.”

In conclusion, Prof. Lv provided many important information on nicotine and gave some useful suggestions as well as some guidance to us, which were very helpful to our experiments.

3)Doctor and Nurse in pneumology department Xiaoshan Zhong Hospital

Besides a general presentation on the knowledge about smoking resulted diseases, which confirmed public concerns on smoking, second-hand smoke and health , they also gave us several suggestions on our product design and application based on our project research direction. In fact, even in hospital, where smoking is strictly forbidden, some patients and

a) Bangle for patients, which can remind them the nicotine level therefore prevent them from aggravating;

b) Monitoring device, which can be installed in toilets or other crowded places. If the nicotine content in air exceeds the limit, the equipment’s light will be lit up.

He gave us a general introduction on government policy and regulation, which were very helpful for our background investigation. Moreover, he also gave us some application suggestion of our product from his view.

“I think putting such kind of devices in the smoking room could allow us to make a switch in the ventilation system. When the nicotine in the smoking room reaches a certain level, it will be discharged once. You would not need cost a lot of power to keep the air clean. Furthermore, you can use it to test the amount of nicotine in the soil and water around the tobacco industry, which brings great advantage to enterprises supervision.”

In conclusion, the interviews with medical staff and government officer enabled us to estimate the program’s potential value. Because pollution of second-hand smoke was common in our daily life, our research has great development future, which could be applied effectively in the society. These interviews also inspired us to outlook the future and motivate us to continue our work.

  • Worldshaper-XSHS, Xiaoshan High School

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