Education and Public Engagement

At The Begining

Synthetic biology involves many uncertainties and risks because it involves the editing of genetic material and information in living organisms. De Vriend emphasized that there are three types of biosafety risks in synthetic biology: One is the risk of negative impact on the environment. Organisms created by synthetic biology may have unexpected side effects. The second is the risk of contaminating natural gene pools, and synthetic organisms may transfer their genes to natural organisms. Third is the risk of escape, synthetic organisms m causing lasting damage to the environment d ecosystem. In addition, synthetic biology breaks the boundaries between artificial and natural to a certain extent, it is even possible to create artificial life, whether it will have uncontrollable and sustained effects on natural balance and ecosystems, and even be maliciously exploited. There is still controversial in China’s society, which may led to the ethical issues of synthetic biology.

However, biosafety, ethical issues, and thinking behind living things have been neglected intentionally or unintentionally in science education. In view of this, in designing our social participation and educational activities, follow the guidelines of the following principles:

(1) Never do evil. We hope that synthetic biology can be used to make human life better, not to be used as a tool to harm people, such as weapons.
(2) Environmentally friendly and sustainable. We passed on the belief that the research and application of biology need to be consistent with the concept of sustainable development, minimizing the impact on ecosystems, friendly to the surrounding environment and other living things.
(3) Passionate about science and exploration. We hope to inspire emerging teenagers interested in synthetic biology and pass on the torch in their hands.

Spreading Responsibility and Sustainability

This year we hosted the biggest event in the history of the team – a science lecture with the support of Suzhou Youth Science and Technology Museum, “Exploring the Mysteries of Life”, which attracted more than 350 spectators. This lecture is mainly for young people in Suzhou, hoping to stimulate their enthusiasm for science and spreading the awareness synthetic biology. Professor Wang Mu, the director of the Department of Biological Sciences at XJTLU, gave a speech entitled "The Miracle of Life." He also encourages children to study hard, play happily, and be the explorer of a scientific mystery. Xiaohan Zhang, a student from the our team, also brought a lecture on biological science. Together with Haohui Fang, Peng Chai and Yuxuan Wu shared their experiences in studying in XJTLU and participating in iGEM, interact with the audience with their questions.

We attach great importance to an emerging platform such as social media as an effective tool for more people to understand synthetic biology and expand the influence of the team. This year we registered a WeChat subscription account and published some article on popular science and team activities.

In addition to our own publicity channels, we also attached importance to the interaction with the University. Our news of successfully organizing lectures with the Suzhou Youth Science and Technology Museum was posted on the University’s official Weibo (equivalent to China's Facebook or Twitter) pages.

Open Science

In China, limited by the general educational level, the popularity of cultural literacy and scientific knowledge is uneven, and the public's understanding of genetic engineering and synthetic biology is highly biased. After the "Wei Zexi incident", many people doubt the effectiveness of biological treatment and dare not choose the method of biological treatment. Many people do not have the ability to distinguish between reliable science and snake oil. However, the promotion of synthetic biology applications to the real world requires public support and trust.

We believe that science belongs to all mankind, and everyone has the equal opportunity to understand science and technology and make their own choices based on rational judgment. There is a saying: fear comes from ignorance, so the solution to public skepticism about biopharmaceuticals is more education and openness.

Despite synthetic biology having made significant advances in transparency and control by using standard parts to construct biobricks, which in turn modify, regulate, and modify organisms, problems we still need to solve are how to let different people know what is happening inside and outside the lab, how we design, simulate, debug, develop and test, and how we conduct safety evaluations and risk control to eliminate public about their doubt.

This year, we focused on a special group of people in rural China. In the countryside, the hollowing out phenomenon is serious, which means that their children and the next generation have migrated to cities, leaving senior citizen alone in the villages. Most of them have not received higher education, hence they are more likely to believe that rumors such as GM food will immediately lead to poisoning. With the support of the Suzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention, we walked into a remote hamlet of Suzhou, delivered a lecture on modern biotechnique in daily life and health, to dispel their concerns and misunderstandings.

We seized every opportunity to communicate with different stakeholders or the public to hear their opinions on biotechnology and to improve future projects and human practices. We also invited students interested in synthetic biology to come to our some students interested in synthetic biology to come to our laboratory and visit our research process. One of our instructors, Dr. David Sun-Kai Chiu, led them to visit and explained what we are doing.

Fair and Fun

When designing educational activities, we not only followed the principles of sustainability, responsibility and open science, but also consider the equal participation and extensive coverage of students from different backgrounds in practice. Due to differences in background, some students may have received a better STEM education, and some students may not have stepped into the laboratory ever, let alone touched frontier science. But we insist on a value: we believe that in the face of science, different people should be given equal opportunities. Therefore, we have designed several different educational curriculum practices: participants ranged from kindergarten kids (3 years old) to seniors (70 years old) from metropolis to remote villages, from international schools to underdeveloped areas, to choose the best way to adjust in their understanding.

Traditional science lectures could be boring for some participants. We always believe that science is fun and can be learned in practice. According to the learning pyramid theory, learning and teaching each other in practice are several ways to effectively master knowledge. This year, for the first time, we cooperated with Zibo Normal College, based on the concept of project-based learning, and developed a six-day “High School Student Science Experiment Summer Camp”. About 50 young people aged 15-17 participated in it. This summer camp contained different disciplines of STEM, provided opportunities for students from different backgrounds to do experiments by themselves and to develop an interest in science. We also led them to discuss the philosophical and ethical issues of science and technology. At the same time, a specialist from institute of Leadership and Educational Development (iLEAD) in XJTLU also shared many constructive opinions based on a cognitive theory for our curriculum design.

We also developed a series of street science popularization activities for the public. For example, in order to enable more people to hear our voices, we have successfully established a partnership with TED x SUZHOU this year, and participated in a series of online and offline activities, We displayed a poster on many public events such as the campus open day, faculty introduction and other activities. We distribute iGEM brochures, souvenirs and communicate with interested students, take the opportunity to listen to their suggestions extensively.

Active Engagement

We believe that scientists and technicians should work hard to avoid stereotypes in the lab, especially in China. This will give the public an impression of being shot out of science and technology. Researchers should actively engage with their communities, stakeholders, listen to their voices, and interact with the public as an important part of the engineering cycle to improve their research projects.

In this year's human practice, we have used all resources and channels to reach long-term strategic partnerships with many organizations. We are endorsed by the Suzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention for the first time and successfully carried out health education activities. We have reached a long-term cooperation intention with the Suzhou Youth Science and Technology Museum for scientific popularization activities, and indirectly contributed to the Cooperation between public institutions and our university. This year is also our first attempt to participate in a series of online and offline events at TEDxSuzhou. In the near future, we will be invited as a guest speaker at TEDxSuzhou Youth to share our stories with more people. Further, for the first time, we discussed with the University’s Research Management Office, law firms and external companies the possibility of intellectual property protection and the conversion of the results into patents. The companies we cooperate with this year have also grown substantially and the cooperation has been further deepened. In addition, we have established good relationships with various departments of the university.

Therefore, we achieved a breakthrough this year: 1500+ participant involved, 24+ Activities, 8 Conferences and Collaborations, 6 Cities, and paved the way for future teams to carry out human practice activities and project development.

Collaborators and Supporters


Rm 363, Science Building

Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University

111 Ren'ai Road, Suzhou, China




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