Team:Oxford/P&P communication



Our Team

As an interdisciplinary team, we quickly realized that we needed to find effective ways to communicate complex concepts and ideas from each of our disciplines - biochemistry, engineering, biology, chemistry, and law - to other members of the team with no more than a lay background knowledge. Doing this enabled us to take advantage of our different knowledge and perspectives, bringing a new angle and fresh approach to the work in each of our fields, and allowed us to use our combined knowledge to tackle problems which we would not have been able to address individually.

This sharing of knowledge and ideas is essential not only within successful iGEM teams: our interdisciplinary group is, in this regard, a microcosm of society at large. Dialogue between scientists and non-scientists must be two-way, understanding and willing to listen on both sides.

The lack of this mutual communication has caused massive problems for areas of science, biotechnology in particular, in recent years.

The Knowledge Deficit Assumption

The so-called 'knowledge deficit assumption', according to which public objections to science are based on lack of understanding and misinformation, is no longer an adequate explanation to brush off widespread concerns about synthetic biology. As the below pictures show, it is true that there has been a certain degree of hysteria in the public response to genetic manipulation.

However, in the 21st Century, scientists have to take some responsibility for education and explaining science in an accessible way, avoiding psychobabble without dumbing down ideas. If this has been achieved, there is then a responsibility to take the views and concerns of the public seriously - as we found on a small scale within our team, in a society of individuals with a wide range of different expertise can offer different perspectives and may be able to spot flaws or potential problems in the bigger picture which a reasearcher, immersed in the minute detail of a project, has not considered.

Opposition does not equal miscomprehension; a well-informed public may legitimately conclude from the information they have absorbed that the risks of a certain project are unacceptable or outweigh the benefits. Equally, support does not equal understanding; it is important to ensure that where the public do back a development, they do so having made a full assessment of the benefits and risks, with realistic expectations and to the likely benefits and limitations of the science. With this in mind, we thought about methods of communication our team had found useful during the course of our summer project, and how these could potentially be applied in the dialogue between scientists and the public to ensure that DCMation has the level of public enthusiasm necessary for widespread use in society.

1000 Word Dictionary

Flick through iGEM dictionary developed by our team using only the most common 1000 words in the English language. We demystify iGEM and synthetic biology concepts relevant to our project, making them more accessible to non-specialists (including other members of our own team).

Our dictionary can be downloaded in PDF (recommended) or Text File format using the links below, or check out some of the highlights on this page. You can also try it for yourself at - it's harder than it sounds!

Oxford iGEM 2014.


The Royal Society

Team members Glen Gowers and Philipp Lorenz attended the 2014 London Biochemistry Alumni Event hosted at the Royal Society. The occasion attracted alumni from across a period of more than 50 years – bringing together those who completed their PhDs in the 1950s, with students graduating last year. Following an introduction by Head of Department Mark Sansom and talks from two Royal Institution Christmas Lecturers, our iGEM team members entertained guests with their presentation.


Conveying our enthusiasm and ambition for the competition was crucial here, as well as appearing professional and organised. We avoided going into too much technical detail but concentrated on sharing our overall vision and the potential of our project. Many of our sponsors are keen to keep updated on our progress and we plan to produce a report for them after the jamboree. We received a great response and would like to thank all our sponsors for their support!

Sheffield iGEM Meet Up

In July Oliver, Corinna, Fran, and Emily attended the Sheffield iGEM meet up and presented our project to other teams there. Corinna had this to say: "For the presentation of our project at the University of Sheffield meet-up, we were expected to remain under a time limit of 5 minutes. This was the main factor in determining the extent of detail we included in the presentation. We were also encouraged to have a PPT slide to accompany our presentation, which we kept very simple: a slide with the animated DCMation logo, and another slide with a team picture. We had four team members attend the meeting, and all of us spoke for about a minute in the presentation. The first minute of the presentation was spent on outlining the uses of DCM, current disposal techniques, and how it is harmful to the environment. The second minute was devoted to describing our user-friendly disposal kit in a very simple manner. We then spent the last three minutes on the three parts of the project we had at that point (A, B, and C), as well as the engineering aspects of our system. These were only one- or two-sentence summaries due to the time limit. We used general scientific jargon in the presentation, since our audience was almost exclusively other iGEMers doing wet-lab work in the project. We could therefore use terms such as E. coli, enzymes, biosensor, regulatory network, etc. without having to explain their meaning."

Oxford University Biochemistry Department

We gave a presentation to researchers in the Oxford University Biochemistry Department. It was a good practice at presenting and a springboard for developing the final presentation. However, this presentation obviously contained more biochemistry than engineering due to the audience.

The questions that we faced after the presentation were very useful and allowed us to channel our project development.

Public Focus Group

The presentation delivered to our second public focus group was intended to give a very general overview of synthetic biology, its potential, its challenges, and its application in our project. To ensure the presentation was accessible to the layman we avoided use of jargon where possible - where technical language was unavoidable, we included plain-English explanations of these terms in a 'Definitions' slide. We were also careful to give a neutral, unbiased view of synthetic biology as the aim was to inform, not to have our own views sway those of the focus group.

UNIQ Summer School

UNIQ courses are an Oxford University-based series of free academic residential summer camps for Year 12s. We were able to speak to 40 students with a specific interest in studying biochemistry about iGEM and synthetic biology. These 17 year olds were therefore students that were likely to have a high standard AS-level knowledge of biology and chemistry. As such we included a short introduction to synthetic biology, but felt we did not have to define terms such as ‘gene’ and ‘enzyme’. We described to them the applications of some of the most imaginative projects from past iGEM competitions, but did not include the genetic circuits that require an undergraduate understanding of gene structure. The main aim of the presentation was to show the students what they would experience if they were part of a future Oxford University iGEM team. We therefore focused on our own experience of iGEM, both the opportunities we have had for developing new skills as well as the social side of our summer. We also discussed how they may be able to get involved in future years. As our presentation was to be the last item at the end of a tiring week for the students we included short animations, little text and many photos on our slides and maintained an informal tone for our spoken delivery. We initially intended for the presentation and Q&A session to take 20 minutes, unfortunately due previous events running over time we had to shorten our presentation slightly as we went along and were unable to answer any questions. Despite this we still had a positive response as one student came to us at the end to enquire how they could get involved. We would like to thank Kathryn Scott for kindly fitting us into the very full UNIQ timetable.

YSL Workshop

In the process of putting together our report and our guidance for iGEM teams, our team, in collaboration with the event organisers Philipp and Bethan of UCL iGEM, ran an intellectual property workshop at the Young Synthetic Biologists Conference 2.0 for other iGEMmers interested in the issue. It was difficult to cater for such a range in terms of the level of understanding of the audience; some members had hardly heard of IP whereas others were familiar with and often had strong views on the subject.
The event was a great success; teams attending said 'I hadn't really appreciated just how big an impact this area of law could have on scientific development and particularly on synthetic biology - it's given me a lot to think about!'. We had a great time and there were some really interesting and insightful debates and comments.

And of course, Boston!

Here we come...