The AcCELLerator

Saturday Balloon Fever

In Germany and many other parts of the western world there is a huge negative public opinion about genetic engineering. Especially reports in mass media often stoke further prejudices. Sadly, these reports are mostly unqualified and unscientific. Due to the reports and a general lack of education about molecular biology, many people indeed reject genetic engineering, but have no idea, what genetic engineering is about. This leads to an ambivalent public opinion. On the one hand, biofuel production (“green” energy) via (usually genetically modified) algae or bacteria is widely supported, on the other hand, especially synthetic engineered plants are hardly condemned.

According to that ambivalence in media and educational system, many people do not know that genetic engineering and synthetic biology are indeed part of our everyday life and have many different promising approaches to help our society or even safe life. As iGEMers it is our duty to change something about this deficiency. Our contribution was the Saturday Balloon Fever.

“Have you ever heard about synthetic biology?” – “Did you know that…?” were the two main questions we asked to passengers at this special event, which took place at august the 16th. We wanted to know, what people know about synthetic biology and also show examples for products of synthetic biology in everyday life. Therefore, we distributed cards with facts about synthetic biology in everyday life (for further information we added the URL of our homepage). Furthermore, passengers could get a free balloon attached to one of the cards in exchange for a small conversation with one of our members about synthetic biology. Since balloons obviously attract young and old, we had the chance to speak to people of all ages.

The conversations were very interesting and varying, but most passengers had several opinions in common:

  • Almost no one knew synthetic biology.
  • Many passengers were positively surprised about the facts we told them.
  • After the mention of genetic engineering almost every passenger rated synthetic biology as dangerous.
  • Most people concerned about: uncontrollable super-viruses, bacteria, etc. accidently evolved in research and low biosafety standards in labs and factories that may set them free.
  • These concerns were usually not funded.

Based on these impressions we decided to gain statistically valid data about the public opinion regarding synthetic biology. Hence, we started an online survey about synthetic biology.

Discover the results of our survey!

Laura discussing synthetic biology, its risks and chances.

The last balloons rising at the sky of Freiburg.