Team:Aberdeen Scotland/Ethics


Team:Aberdeen Scotland -

Our part in helping to develop Scottish national science policy in the area of synthetic biology

The Aberdeen team was fortunate to be able to accept an invitation to an event on 16th October organised by the Chief Scientific Advisor of Scotland, Prof Muffy Calder. Prof. Calder is a Scottish government-appointed scientist whose role is to advise the Scottish government on science issues as they impact on government policy.

Prof. Calder co-chairs the Scottish Scientific Advisory Council (SSAC), an government body providing scientific advice to government, and currently engaged with producing a report on the future development of synthetic biology as a tool for biotechnology in Scotland. We, the Aberdeen iGEM team were invited to the launch event for the SSAC Report on Synthetic biology: opportunities for Scotland, where we were asked to present a poster on our iGEM project to evidence the development of synthetic biology in Scotland. We had the opportunity to speak to a number of key figures in this area, including Prof Calder, and Prof. Nigel Brown, President of the Society for General Microbiology and co-author of the report. We considered that we had contributed in some small way to the development of synthetic biology policy, and were participants in the process of development of national science policy in this area. We regarded ourselves as privileged to see how national science policies, including those on synthetic biology are developed in our country, as well as to be able to speak to Scottish policy makers at the event.

The Scottish SSAC report on Synthetic biology: opportunities for Scotland: A report by the Scottish Science Advisory Council will be published on 17th September 2014.

iGEM Aberdeen: public outreach and science communication

The Aberdeen team used a number of outreach opportunities to engage with non-scientists and the general public. Each provided the opportunity to engage with a lay audience, and find out what the public thinks of the science of synthetic biology. We discussed our science and presented at the following events.

SCHMU Radio, Aberdeen: our team was interviewed on the SHMU local radio station for 20 minutes on the Talking Science show, giving us the chance to communicate our project, and the concept of synthetic biology, to an audience in the Aberdeen city area.

Explorathon 2014: this annual European event is a vast science public outreach event giving researchers from across Europe the chance to showcase their science to a general public audience. On Explorathon day (26th September 2014), our contribution was present to an open audience in a quick-fire Pecha Kucha event (20 slides, 20 seconds each) held in the Belmont cinema in Aberdeen city centre. This open event was attended by a large number of members of the public, followed by a Q&A session.

iGEM project blog with AU Magazine: our team had a great opportunity to engage with non-scientists through a 3-part blog we produced in the Aberdeen University science magazine 'Au'. This magazine is written for a non-scientific audience, providing an important outreach opportunity.

Our goal for publishing a series of articles was to:
    • Address the general public's misconceptions surrounding synthetic biology
    • Popularise SynBio
    • Get people thinking about how synthetic biology can provide solutions to serious global issues we face nowadays
    • To start a discussion about the ethical implication of our actions; Our moral responsibility to use knowledge to do good, as well as looking at the sustainability of synthetic biology in the future
    • To popularize iGEM
    • To inspire readers of the magazine (fellow students) and show that young people can make a positive contribution and tackle global problems

To date we have published 2 articles:

  • A Young Physicist’s perspective on Synthetic Biology by Konstantin Gizdov, in which we addressed the following:
    • - What is iGEM
    • - What is synthetic biology, emphasizing its interdisciplinary aspect and debunking myths surrounding 'the Frankenstein's biology'
    • - Why are physicists involved in biology projects? How the modelling can guide informed design of biological research
    • - The unlimited potential of synbio and how we implement it in everyday life
    • - The risks and ethical implications connected with irresponsible applications of synbio, and how it is tackled by laws and regulations
  • Wake up to the sleeping sickness! by Ana-Maria Cujba, our grand plan to engineer an E. coli System for the diagnosis of neglected tropical diseases:
    • - What is Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT)
    • - The burden of the disease
    • - Difficulties with diagnosing HAT
    • - How to engineer a diagnostic system adapted to function effectively in remote parts of Africa and how synthetic biology enables us to do so
    • - The solution - our E.coli operated diagnosis system and a HAT detector device
    • - The positive impact of our project

Our third article about the Giant iGEM Jamboree and an exchange of ideas within an international scientific community will be published in mid-November. We will emphasize the international aspect of the competition and how all teams work together to perform high quality, safe science.

Interactions with the Scottish Health Service

In addition to the above outreach, as part of the project planning we also contacted a nearby National Health Service lab (Ms Leslie Bevridge, Grampian health authority Microbiology pathology lab) to identify possible disease targets for a new diagnosis tool. While we eventually settled on tropical disease diagnosis in remote areas we were still periodically in contact throughout the project, often regarding our weekly progress.