The AcCELLerator

LINK-It- the story

In the beginning of our project we aimed to inform the public about synthethic biology and our project. After our Balloon Saturday Night Fever action and talking to friends and family we became aware of the fact that the main reason people are skeptical towards synthetic biology were safety concerns. These concerns were often not funded. To gain statistically funded data about the opinions regarding synthetic biology we started a survey about synthetic biology in general and the main concerns of people towards synthetic biology (View the data of our survey). As a team from Germany we dealt with a lot of prejudices about genetically modified organisms. To point out the general opinion, we created a mindmap giving you a small collection showing mixed opinions of the public.

We also wanted to consult experts on the field of scientific law and ethics. Therefore we partook in a symposium, learning about conferences from the experts. What experts are concerned of. We also consulted an expert of synthetic biology ethics, Dr. Joachim Boldt. During this learning process, starting with talking to the public to consulting different experts, we became more and more aware of the problem we really wanted to encounter: How can we, as a small student group alleviate concerns that running through all walks of life. For us it was crucial that the only way to gain acceptance was to overcome the fears. Interview

This is the reason why we started Link-It. Becoming aware of the safety concerns, led us to see our project from a different angle. After doing so we also concerned ourselves with the ethical aspects of our project. The problem of safety concerns does not only lie in the way people observe laboratory work but also starts with the way terms are used in synthetic biology. We analyzed ethical problems regarding the terms "living machine" and "artificial cell" and came to the conclusion that for a public debate a clear and precise nomenclature of terms used in synthetic biology is very important. For the reason that synthetic biology is a young field of research we have now the chance to build up an informed basis for debate. We propose the usage of "mechanical living organisms" and "genetically artificial" cell as proper terms for the discussion. An ethical view on synthetic biology. As a new field of science synthetic biology has the opportunity to model the public awareness. Synthetic biology has the potential to change the life of people and to solve important problems. It is crucial to include the public to achieve these prime goals.

Changes always begin with a small step. We asked ourselves how to make a difference in the public perception of our project. Even though we are confident about the safety of our projects, people hearing about viral vectors create horror scenarios in their minds. Often when we explained the safety standards of our project to the public we did not realize that using certain terms that might be obvious for us swamped the people. Therefore we created a spreadsheet to explain safety aspects of our project and viral vectors in general. We wanted to make it understandable not just for scientists but for everyone. See the Safety-Sheet for a quick and easy overview

As a conclusion we want to accent our goals that we aim to achieve by creating Link-It once more. In our opinion it is very important to link policy and practice with safety. It is or strong belief that after careful investigation these two belong together and safety should always be a part of policy and practice. This is the only way to create a public acceptance of synthetic biology and it is also a great opportunity to bring synthetic biology to the center of society. You cannot change the world if you are not aiming to achieve understanding.