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Cornell iGEM

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Human Practices

Human Practices

Cornell iGEM Human Practices came into the year with much potential and uncertainty: despite our passion for the fields, we were largely new to the field of synthetic biology and environmental engineering, let alone iGEM. Over the course of the past spring, summer, and fall we grew to become intellectually familiar and developed significant personal and academic investments in the subjects our team was tackling as a whole.

We set out to create Human Practices components that (1) contributed and congealed with the work our team was undertaking, (2) had meaningful impact on our local and global communities, and (3) was innovative, novel, and educational to future teams. As such, we: engaged in extensive outreach; learned about the environmental, social, economic, and political issues that shaped the world of the biochemistry we were tackling; launched a new social media platform called Humans and SynBio in collaboration with teams from across the world; put together a survey to understand the constructs underlying opinions about synthetic biology; built a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment, following up on our efforts from previous years; facilitated collaborations within our university to put together a portfolio of possible implementation of our genetically engineered technologies; reached out to iGEM teams to collect water samples for testing; and considered the bioethical and safety implications of our work writ large.


Humans and SynBio

This year we aimed to include an HPrac component that had global impact, was modular and adaptable, and that served to educate both iGEM teams and the communities in which they operate, enhancing their relationship with each other. To this end we took inspiration from the popular photoblog Humans of New York, which chronicles the personalities, visages, and life experiences of the people of the streets, subways, and salons of New York City. HONY, as it’s called, has achieved a worldwide following and has spawned numerous spin-off projects, including Humans of Ithaca and Humans of Cornell University. We sought to emulate HONY’s singular style, a mode of social media posting that is informative, striking, and familiar: every picture includes as its point of focus a person or group of people, and is accompanied by a quote from their conversation with the photographer, a piece of text that often highlights some unique quality of the interviewees.
To create our project, we built a Facebook page. We produced a document that invited iGEM teams from across the world to contribute posts. This invitation outlines interview protocols, instructions for obtaining permission to post an interview transcript and photo online, and how the project relates to the broader goals shared by the iGEM competition and its constituent teams.

After e-mailing this to all teams whose e-mails were readily available, as well as posting our invitation on the iGEM Facebook group several times this summer, results started to flow in. The submissions weren’t the only memorable element of this outreach - we learned a great deal about how individuals around the world think about and relate to synthetic biology. We continue to actively solicit and accept submissions for Humans & Synbio. Please contact us through Facebook if you are interested in participating!