Policy & Practices

During the past summer, we not only refined the technical and biological sides of Cellock Holmes but also considered other aspects of our iGEM project such as social acceptance, biosafety and economical relevance. Will society accept the technology we develop? How can we convince skeptics that synthetic biology is safe? Does our product have economical relevance and how can we best market what we built? What is the target group that might benefit from our devices, and can we make our developments available to not only the privileged population but to everybody in the world? At the meetup of the German iGEM teams in Munich earlier this summer, we also prepared a suggestion on how to handle intellectual proporty rights on BioBricks.

These are only a few of the questions we discussed within our team. To read more about the different aspects of our Policy & Practices work, please click on a panel below:

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Spreading the Idea of Synthetic Biology

How can we convince people that the technology we develop is safe to use and that the problems we tackle with our project concern everybody? Unfortunately, lots of people around the world are scared of genetically modified organisms and any application related to them. Though we believe that natural skepticism towards new and unproved technologies is not just good but especially desirable, the current fear some people encounter gene technology with is a bit disproportionate and might be counterproductive to technological and scientific advance in related fields.

However, as reported, for example, in an article published in a major local newspaper's magazine, Kölner Stadtanzeiger, the social acceptance of biotechnological products could be higher if people felt informed better and understood the underlying science. Following up on this, we thought about how we can inform people factually but in a comprehensible way about gene technology and synthetic biology. Before we talk about fancy devices in synthetic biology, how can we get down to the underlying issue of social rejection of gene technology in general?

At the same time, young students interested in science and engineering are the most valuable future source of innovation. One day, they might be the researchers who develop the solutions to the most pressing issues of our world. For that reason, informing this group of people is of utmost importance and was therefore prioritized in our Policy & Practices work.

Combining these two thoughts, we visited two schools, the Kaiser-Karls-Gymnasium in Aachen and the NEAnderLab in Hilden, where we talked to students about synthetic biology and the iGEM competition, but also explained the scientific background and social aspects of our project. A delegation of our team also visited the MakerFaire in Hannover, a family-friendly exhibition for tinkerers of all kinds, to spread the idea of synthetic biology and to discuss our project with the public. When we organized the Aachen iGEM Meetup 2014, we also made sure to include a public part where all teams who participated in our meetup had the opportunity to present their project to a general audience.

In general, we received positive feeback throughout. The students we worked with in the NEAnderLab also filled out evaluation sheets, giving us very good marks for our collaboration. Through our work with the different people we encountered during our Policy & Practices work, we were able to inform people in a comprehensible way about synthetic biology and gene technology in general. We see this as a successful first step towards a society that embraces the possibilities provided by Synthetic Biology, and recommend approaches like the school collaborations to other iGEM teams who want the spread the idea of synthetic biology.

To read more about our different public projects, please click on the respective logo below.

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Our iGEM team is committed to reflect all aspects of the entire project, including biosafety. From the beginning on, the team thoroughly discussed safety issues that could potentially arise with the implementation of Cellock Holmes. The results of these discussions fundamentally influenced the design of Watson and the choice of potential application fields. Read more about our safety considerations on our Safety page.

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Economical View

The economical considerations regarding our project were carried out according to the motto:

Make the world a better place - Open access for scientific advance

For both our WatsOn and our OD/F Device, we are following an economical strategy focused on the open source principle. Low cost and the use of easily available parts have heavily influenced the design choices made when developing our devices. You can find more information on our page Economical View.

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Intellectual Property on BioBricks

During the meetup of the German iGEM teams from 23rd to 25th May also workshops took place in which amongst others we discussed the topic of bioethics. Moral questions were addressed, regarding the value of life and human influence on it, as well as questions dealing with the possible socioeconomic effects of synthetic biology.

Especially the topic of an open source vs. patent controlled field accounted for a large part of the discussion. During the discussion one student brought up the point that the legal status of parts in registry remains unclear, and that there are parts where only upon a closer look it becomes clear that the rights are company–owned. Because the issue of uncertain legal status of parts in the registry persists, the German iGEM teams wrote a proposal on how to deal with intellectual property rights in the Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

For for information on intellectual property on BioBricks, read the full proposal the German iGEM teams composed.

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On our Blog we post entries about recent news concerning our team's work and activities. We also write about general news from the field of synthetic biology, biotechnology and medicine.