Team:Purdue/Policy and Practices/Introduction



"Policy & Practices is the study of how your work affects the world, and how the world affects your work." — Peter Carr, Director of Judging

To have a successful science experiment, extensive background research and thought are required. Without a strong grasp of relevant literature, the experiment cannot live up its full potential. An experiment can provide insight and knowledge in and of itself, but the value of an experiment lies in how it contributes to and ties in with a pre-existing body of literature and applications to the real world.

Purdue iGEM’s most recent experiment attempted to increase iron uptake in plants by modifying bacteria already present in the soil. The overarching question the policy and practices team focused on addressing this year was the following: How can the systematic management of microbial soil ecology benefit modern agriculture?

We started by looking at micronutrient deficiencies around the world and noted the prevalence of iron deficiency; we decided to augment iron uptake in plants, in an effort to increase the amount of iron available to humans for consumption. While finalizing our idea, we consulted and interacted with several experts from both industry and Purdue’s agriculture and biotechnology departments. It was through these interactions that we learned of the need for a product like Minecrobe. Consequently, we also learned of the large disparity between the farmers who utilize products such as fertilizers, (the category of products most similar to our deliverable) and the industries that make them. In order to address this gap, we worked with organizations including Beck’s Hybrids, Dow AgroSciences, and Ziptrips to increase awareness of genetic modification among farmers and the general public. Interacting with around one thousand farmers at Beck’s, several researchers at Dow AgroSciences, and around seven thousand middle schoolers definitely gave us a lot of insight into their opinions and their understanding of GMOs, agricultural restrictions with genetically modified organisms, and the market for our product. These networking and outreach events also gave our team a chance to inform farmers and the public as a whole about our product and the role of genetic modification in society today. We also aspired to host an industry-farmers forum, a discussion panel, and a soil sampling collaboration. <p>While analyzing the market gap for and the potential of the Minecrobe project, we ran a cost-benefit analysis for our product and calculated a hypothetical cost for our product scaled up to an industry setup. We developed a model to perform cost-benefit analyses for the use of our product on farms which acts as a good base indicator for any interested parties. We also hope to develop a tool out of this model.

Safety is extremely important in projects that involve genetic modification, especially when working with bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis which is found in soil worldwide. Therefore, several implications and restrictions need to be taken into consideration. While examining the potential of our project in its initial stages, our team expended a lot of time understanding the safety and policy aspects of the proposed idea. We explored soil regulations and policies, life expectancy of Bacillus subtilis, the possibility of designing a killswitch to destroy the bacteria, etc.

In addition, our team worked on developing educational tools related to our project and synthetic biology, genetic modification, and engineering in general. We created a video game that relates specifically to Minecrobe, depicting the modification of a bacterium in order to convert iron in the soil to a form that plants can use, as well as a card game that makes genetics more interactive by illustrating how DNA base pairs create codons in order to produce proteins. We also educated groups of underprivileged students and others, including working with middle schoolers from the Christamore house and a set of students from a local 4-H group.Our ongoing project to establish a biotechnology badge with the Girl Scouts was continued.