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Cornell iGEM

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Human Practices


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”.

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Opinions on Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology and Our Project