Team:Cornell/project/hprac/survey

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<h1>Human Practices</h1>  
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<h1>Survey</h1>
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We surveyed a sample of our colleagues, peers, and community members (n=166), hoping to understand how individuals’ opinions about environmental issues and about the viability of synthetic biology affected their stated judgement of our synthetic biology application. We disseminated this survey using Facebook, E-mail, and other forms of social media. We also sent out invitations to all the iGEM teams who had their contact e-mails readily available on their websites. Of the respondents who provided a complete set of responses (n=162), a distinct minority (n=3) indicated that they either disagreed or strongly disagreed (on a 5-point Likert scale) with the use of synthetic biology to implement the following description of our project:
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"This year Cornell iGEM will be focused on developing an alternative solution to heavy metal water pollution (i.e lead, mercury, or nickel). Our hope is to create a water filtration device composed of  E. coli that have been genetically engineered to produce metallothioneins-a protein that has a high affinity for binding with heavy metals. In other words, water containing heavy metals will be pumped through the E. coli cells and the heavy metals will be taken out of the water and into the E. coli cells. Our hope is to design our device for point-source filtration, so attaching it to the end of a factory pipe filtering out heavy metal content before it enters the ecosystem. However, there are many other applications for our project."
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As a result of the intense clustering of opinions, as well as the general homogeneity of demographic and educational background, we were able to learn several things about a similar population but cannot make a broader statistical claim about the interplay between background, an individual’s views about environmentalism, and their opinions about synthetic biology. Over 100 (n=106) of our respondents were students, most of whom offered rather robust definitions of “synthetic biology”.
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In addition, we asked people about what they think of when they think about synthetic biology. We have compiled a list of their responses and <a href="http://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=zzk_pIIFJMOE.kTt6mcOuQAVQ" target="_blank">mapped to their respective geographic locations</a>.
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  <p>It appears you don't have a PDF plugin for this browser. You can <a href="http://2014.igem.org/wiki/images/8/81/Cornell_SurveyScreenshots.pdf">click here to download the PDF file.</a></p>
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Cornell iGEM Human Practices came into the year with much potential. Over the course of the past spring, summer, and fall we developed significant personal and academic investments in the subjects our team was tackling as a whole.
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<h1>iGEM Tracks</h1>
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We set out to create Human Practices components that contributed to and complemented with the work our team was doing, had a meaningful impact on our local and global communities, and were innovative, novel, and educational to future teams. To this end, we did the following: (1) engaged in extensive <a href="http://2014.igem.org/Team:Cornell/outreach">outreach</a>, (2) learned about the environmental, social, economic, and political issues that shaped the world of the biochemistry we were tackling, (3) launched a new social media platform called <a href="http://2014.igem.org/Team:Cornell/project/hprac/humans">Humans and SynBio</a> in collaboration with teams from across the world, (4) put together a <a href="http://2014.igem.org/Team:Cornell/project/hprac/survey">survey</a> to understand the constructs underlying opinions about synthetic biology, (5) built a <a href="http://2014.igem.org/Team:Cornell/project/hprac/ethics">Comprehensive Environmental Assessment</a>, following up on our efforts from previous years, (6) facilitated collaborations within our university to put together a <a href="http://2014.igem.org/Team:Cornell/project/futureapp">portfolio</a> of possible implementation of our genetically engineered technologies, (7) reached out to other iGEM teams to collect <a href="http://2014.igem.org/Team:Cornell/project/hprac/environ">water samples</a> for testing, and (8) considered the bioethical and safety implications of our work at large.
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Preferences for tracks have been compiled into a graph, and from the data, it appears that our sample has the strongest preference for utilizing synthetic biology for health and medical issues. Tracks such as manufacturing have a more mixed review.
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We have <a href="http://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=zzk_pIIFJMOE.kT0zI2J0Nk_E" target="_blank">constructed a map</a> to depict variations in track preference based on location. Green pinpoints indicate a strong preference for the particular track (1 on the rating scale utilized, strongly agree) and red indicates a strong opposition for the particular track. The tracks that are represented include health and medicine, energy, environment, manufacturing, information processing and food and nutrition. On the map, the ratings for energy and environment are averaged to form one map due to constraints from the GoogleMap server (only handles a maximum of 5 map layers). Users can toggle between tracks to see the variability between tracks.
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<h1>Results</h1>
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<h3>1. Opinions of Synthetic Biology</h3>
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<h1>Humans and SynBio </h1>
 
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This year we aimed to include a Human Practices component that had a global impact, was adaptable, and served to educate both iGEM teams and the communities in which they operated, enhancing their relationships 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 New York City. HONY, as it’s called, has gained 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.
 
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For our project, we built a <a href="http://www.facebook.com/HumansandSynBio">Facebook page</a>. We produced a <a href="http://2014.igem.org/wiki/images/b/b6/Humans_and_Synbio_Invitation_-_Cornell_iGEM.pdf">document</a> 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.
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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.
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We continue to actively solicit and accept submissions for Humans & Synbio. Please contact us through Facebook if you are interested in participating!
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<h1>SynBio Opinions </h1>
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<b>Results Based on Level of Education</b>
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We surveyed a sample of our colleagues, peers, and community members (n=166), hoping to understand how individuals’ opinions about environmental issues and about the viability of synthetic biology affected their stated judgement of our synthetic biology application. We disseminated this survey using Facebook, e-mail, and other forms of social media. We also sent out invitations to all the iGEM teams who had their contact e-mails readily available on their websites. Results are summarized and pictured on the corresponding page, accompanied by a sample survey. Of note is the fact that out of the respondents who provided a complete set of responses (n=162), a distinct minority (n=3) indicated that they either disagreed or strongly disagreed (on a 5-point Likert scale) with the use of synthetic biology to implement the following description of our project:
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Opinions regarding the benefits versus ethical concerns of GMOs appear to vary in similar ways throughout all educational levels. For the ‘high school’ and ‘some college’ groups, there seem to be a similar number of people who strongly agree or agree (light blue and orange) and who disagree or strongly disagree (yellow and dark blue). The proportion who remain neutral also appears to be consistent. For those with graduate degrees, there seem to be more people who are opposed to genetically modified organisms and for those with undergraduate degrees, more people have positive opinions.
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Individuals who have received a higher level of education appear to support the teaching of synthetic biology more so than those of lower educational levels, though the  trend is not obvious. Currently there are courses at Cornell University, such as ECE 3530/BME 4980: Introduction to Systems and Synthetic Biology, exploring synthetic biology.
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<h3>2. Opinions of the Cornell iGEM 2014 Project</h3>
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<b>Results Based on Location (Rural, Suburban, Urban)</b>
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"This year Cornell iGEM will be focused on developing an alternative solution to heavy metal water pollution (i.e. lead, mercury, or nickel). Our hope is to create a water filtration device composed of <i>E. coli</i> that have been genetically engineered to produce metallothioneins - a protein that has a high affinity for binding with heavy metals. In other words, water containing heavy metals will be pumped through the <i>E. coli</i> cells and the heavy metals will be taken out of the water and into the <i>E. coli</i> cells. Our hope is to design our device for point-source filtration, so attaching it to the end of a factory pipe filtering out heavy metal content before it enters the ecosystem. However, there are many other applications for our project."
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Urbanicity, or the degree to which a location is urbanized, is an environmental construct with massive implications for many dimensions of an individual’s life, including their lifetime mental health, their exposure and tolerance for different types of information, and more. Our survey found that individuals living in rural areas were more likely to have strong positive views about water conservation, but that overall the percentage of individuals who “strongly agree” or “agree” with making a conscious effort towards water conservation are constant across urbanicity.  
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<b>Results Based on Education Level</b>
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Overall, concern about water contamination rises with an individual’s level of education, a trend made apparent by the percentage taken up by “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” responses. This is consistent with statistical meta-analyses we’ve reviewed about the origin of environmental concern (see: Liere & Dunlap, 1980)
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<b>Results Based on Gender</b>
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<h1>Environmental Water Samples </h1>
 
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Instead of solely analyzing water samples from our area (Fall Creek in Ithaca, NY), we were curious to see how many other areas around the United States had traces of heavy metal contamination. Thus, we sent out a request for other iGEM teams to send us environmental water samples from their areas. We got responses from all across the nation, ranging from California, Utah, Michigan, Indiana, and Connecticut. In return, we analyzed their samples via ICP-AES (Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission Spectromy) and generated an individual water quality report for each team. Our goal was to develop a better understanding of heavy water contamination in drinking water in the United States, and the analyses returned a surprising variety of heavy metal concentrations in environmental water samples.
 
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As engineers not only do we strive to design and create, we must ensure that whatever our product, it is safe for use, production, and marketing. In addition, we analyzed risk for community, the organism, the environment, and industries. In total, we conducted three different approaches to our risk assessment for Lead it Go. The first was developed by Cornell’s Environmental Health & Safety Department, pertaining specifically to work with recombinant organisms and the possible ramifications if they were to be released into the wild. The next, CEA (Comprehensive Environmental Assessment) was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a general environmental risk assessment and modified by both the Woodrow Wilson Center and our team for use on our synthetic biology project. Finally, we strived to embody the design principles set forth by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, to implement synthetic biology for the betterment of humanity. Each approach has its limitations, but all of them have helped to inform our project design, research practices, and considerations for further development of our project.
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Overall, the trends in responses are very similar for men and women. Responses to “I believe human activity is partially responsible for climate change” and “synthetic biology can provide solutions to environmental problems” are very similar. It appears that both men and women believe that humans are at least partially responsible for recent problems in the environment but are also hopeful that synthetic biology could provide solutions. An interesting offshoot of this project would be to investigate exactly how people anticipate that synthetic biology could help and specifically which environmental problem should be primarily targeted. The results from the questions ‘I am worried that there are heavy metals in my drinking water” and “I make a conscious effort to conserve water” appear to be more disparate. More men disagree that there may be heavy metals in drinking water and more women responded that they make a conscious effort to conserve water. It should also be noted that all responses are self-reported, leading to possible biases and skewed data. A more rigorous examination should be carried out in order to make stronger conclusions.
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<h1>Conclusions</h1>
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Although some conclusions can be made, a few cautions should be mentioned as a disclaimer. There are several aspects of our survey that can be improved upon, if this approach should be attempted again.
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<b>Non-representative sampling</b>: Our sample was distributed primarily via social network sites and email; consequently our survey sample consists primarily of undergraduate students. There is also a high proportion of teenagers and graduate students. Overall, a large proportion of our sample consists of young adults in suburban locations, who may have more liberal viewpoints. The sample is also heavily concentrated in the east coast of the United States. Consequently more diversity in geographical location and age should be emphasized in future studies. The snowball and convenience sampling of our survey prevents us from making more rigorous conclusions based on a representative sample.
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<b>Self-Reported Data</b>: Because all of our data gathered was self-reported, the results may be heavily skewed. For example, even though all survey responses were recorded anonymously, respondents may be more likely to respond with positive answers (“Yes, I make a conscious effort to conserve water”) regardless of whether it is actually accurate or not.
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<b>Significance Testing</b>: Results should be tested more rigorously to analyze whether the differences are statistically significant or due to chance variations.
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<b>Sample Size</b>: Currently, our sample size is approximately 165. There are slight variations with each separate analysis because some people omitted specific responses, precluding the inclusion of their data in the overall analysis. More samples should be collected to form a more representative sample.
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Latest revision as of 03:47, 18 October 2014

Cornell iGEM

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Human Practices

Survey

We surveyed a sample of our colleagues, peers, and community members (n=166), hoping to understand how individuals’ opinions about environmental issues and about the viability of synthetic biology affected their stated judgement of our synthetic biology application. We disseminated this survey using Facebook, E-mail, and other forms of social media. We also sent out invitations to all the iGEM teams who had their contact e-mails readily available on their websites. Of the respondents who provided a complete set of responses (n=162), a distinct minority (n=3) indicated that they either disagreed or strongly disagreed (on a 5-point Likert scale) with the use of synthetic biology to implement the following description of our project:

"This year Cornell iGEM will be focused on developing an alternative solution to heavy metal water pollution (i.e lead, mercury, or nickel). Our hope is to create a water filtration device composed of E. coli that have been genetically engineered to produce metallothioneins-a protein that has a high affinity for binding with heavy metals. In other words, water containing heavy metals will be pumped through the E. coli cells and the heavy metals will be taken out of the water and into the E. coli cells. Our hope is to design our device for point-source filtration, so attaching it to the end of a factory pipe filtering out heavy metal content before it enters the ecosystem. However, there are many other applications for our project."

As a result of the intense clustering of opinions, as well as the general homogeneity of demographic and educational background, we were able to learn several things about a similar population but cannot make a broader statistical claim about the interplay between background, an individual’s views about environmentalism, and their opinions about synthetic biology. Over 100 (n=106) of our respondents were students, most of whom offered rather robust definitions of “synthetic biology”.

In addition, we asked people about what they think of when they think about synthetic biology. We have compiled a list of their responses and mapped to their respective geographic locations.

It appears you don't have a PDF plugin for this browser. You can click here to download the PDF file.

iGEM Tracks

Preferences for tracks have been compiled into a graph, and from the data, it appears that our sample has the strongest preference for utilizing synthetic biology for health and medical issues. Tracks such as manufacturing have a more mixed review.

We have constructed a map to depict variations in track preference based on location. Green pinpoints indicate a strong preference for the particular track (1 on the rating scale utilized, strongly agree) and red indicates a strong opposition for the particular track. The tracks that are represented include health and medicine, energy, environment, manufacturing, information processing and food and nutrition. On the map, the ratings for energy and environment are averaged to form one map due to constraints from the GoogleMap server (only handles a maximum of 5 map layers). Users can toggle between tracks to see the variability between tracks.

Results

1. Opinions of Synthetic Biology

Results Based on Level of Education

Opinions regarding the benefits versus ethical concerns of GMOs appear to vary in similar ways throughout all educational levels. For the ‘high school’ and ‘some college’ groups, there seem to be a similar number of people who strongly agree or agree (light blue and orange) and who disagree or strongly disagree (yellow and dark blue). The proportion who remain neutral also appears to be consistent. For those with graduate degrees, there seem to be more people who are opposed to genetically modified organisms and for those with undergraduate degrees, more people have positive opinions.

Individuals who have received a higher level of education appear to support the teaching of synthetic biology more so than those of lower educational levels, though the trend is not obvious. Currently there are courses at Cornell University, such as ECE 3530/BME 4980: Introduction to Systems and Synthetic Biology, exploring synthetic biology.

2. Opinions of the Cornell iGEM 2014 Project

Results Based on Location (Rural, Suburban, Urban)
Urbanicity, or the degree to which a location is urbanized, is an environmental construct with massive implications for many dimensions of an individual’s life, including their lifetime mental health, their exposure and tolerance for different types of information, and more. Our survey found that individuals living in rural areas were more likely to have strong positive views about water conservation, but that overall the percentage of individuals who “strongly agree” or “agree” with making a conscious effort towards water conservation are constant across urbanicity.

Results Based on Education Level
Overall, concern about water contamination rises with an individual’s level of education, a trend made apparent by the percentage taken up by “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” responses. This is consistent with statistical meta-analyses we’ve reviewed about the origin of environmental concern (see: Liere & Dunlap, 1980)

Results Based on Gender
Overall, the trends in responses are very similar for men and women. Responses to “I believe human activity is partially responsible for climate change” and “synthetic biology can provide solutions to environmental problems” are very similar. It appears that both men and women believe that humans are at least partially responsible for recent problems in the environment but are also hopeful that synthetic biology could provide solutions. An interesting offshoot of this project would be to investigate exactly how people anticipate that synthetic biology could help and specifically which environmental problem should be primarily targeted. The results from the questions ‘I am worried that there are heavy metals in my drinking water” and “I make a conscious effort to conserve water” appear to be more disparate. More men disagree that there may be heavy metals in drinking water and more women responded that they make a conscious effort to conserve water. It should also be noted that all responses are self-reported, leading to possible biases and skewed data. A more rigorous examination should be carried out in order to make stronger conclusions.

Conclusions

Although some conclusions can be made, a few cautions should be mentioned as a disclaimer. There are several aspects of our survey that can be improved upon, if this approach should be attempted again.

  1. Non-representative sampling: Our sample was distributed primarily via social network sites and email; consequently our survey sample consists primarily of undergraduate students. There is also a high proportion of teenagers and graduate students. Overall, a large proportion of our sample consists of young adults in suburban locations, who may have more liberal viewpoints. The sample is also heavily concentrated in the east coast of the United States. Consequently more diversity in geographical location and age should be emphasized in future studies. The snowball and convenience sampling of our survey prevents us from making more rigorous conclusions based on a representative sample.
  2. Self-Reported Data: Because all of our data gathered was self-reported, the results may be heavily skewed. For example, even though all survey responses were recorded anonymously, respondents may be more likely to respond with positive answers (“Yes, I make a conscious effort to conserve water”) regardless of whether it is actually accurate or not.
  3. Significance Testing: Results should be tested more rigorously to analyze whether the differences are statistically significant or due to chance variations.
  4. Sample Size: Currently, our sample size is approximately 165. There are slight variations with each separate analysis because some people omitted specific responses, precluding the inclusion of their data in the overall analysis. More samples should be collected to form a more representative sample.