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<h1> Humans and SynBio </h1>
<h1> Humans and SynBio </h1>
<a href="">Humans and SynBio</a> is our team's take on the <a href="">Humans of New York</a> project that showcases the diversity of people in New York City and their stories.
<a href="">Humans and SynBio</a> is our team's take on the <a href="">Humans of New York</a> project that showcases the diversity of people in New York City and their stories.
This year we aimed to include an HPrac component that had global impact, was modular and adaptable, and that served to educate both iGEM teams and the communities in which they operate, enhancing their relationship with each other. To this end we took inspiration from the popular photoblog Humans of New York, which chronicles the personalities, visages, and life experiences of the people of the streets, subways, and salons of New York City. HONY, as it’s called, has achieved a worldwide following and has spawned numerous spin-off projects, including Humans of Ithaca and Humans of Cornell University. We sought to emulate HONY’s singular style, a mode of social media posting that is informative, striking, and familiar: every picture includes as its point of focus a person or group of people, and is accompanied by a quote from their conversation with the photographer, a piece of text that often highlights some unique quality of the interviewees.
To create our project, we built a Facebook page at <a href=""></a>. We produced a document (link here: <a href=""></a>) that invited iGEM teams from across the world to contribute posts. This invitation outlines interview protocols, instructions for obtaining permission to post an interview transcript and photo online, and how the project relates to the broader goals shared by the iGEM competition and its constituent teams.
After e-mailing this to all teams whose e-mails were readily available, as well as posting our invitation on the iGEM Facebook group several times this summer, results started to flow in. The submissions weren’t the only memorable element of this outreach - we learned a great deal about how individuals around the world think about and relate to synthetic biology.
We continue to actively solicit and accept submissions for Humans & Synbio. Please contact us through Facebook if you are interested in participating!  
We continue to actively solicit and accept submissions for Humans & Synbio. Please contact us through Facebook if you are interested in participating!  

Revision as of 01:27, 16 October 2014

Cornell iGEM

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Human Practices

Humans and SynBio

Humans and SynBio is our team's take on the Humans of New York project that showcases the diversity of people in New York City and their stories. We continue to actively solicit and accept submissions for Humans & Synbio. Please contact us through Facebook if you are interested in participating!
Ithaca, NY | Steamboat Landing

"I actually found a study a few years ago on E. coli, specifically about the fact that beef can be contaminated very easily. But this study actually showed if you grass-fed your beef you had a much lower incidence, and feeding grain to the animals gave rise to E. coli that was acid resistant."

"Because they're not meant to eat corn?"

"Yep - there was a even a part of it that said if you stopped feeding them grain the last few weeks before slaughter, the levels of the worst E. coli would actually drop."

"Did anybody act on that?"

"I'm not sure if anybody did. It's really hard to change the conventional part because we're just so geared to feeding them corn."
Ithaca, NY | Steamboat Landing

"Our thoughts on what?"

"Synthetic biology, modifying the DNA of organisms to make them do something new or different, that sort of thing."

"That's a tough question." "Yeah, modifying animals or bacteria? Like, this duck for example?"

"Yeah, or think of something like Golden Rice."

"Well, I think it's kind of like medicine: do we really know what the impacts of all medicines are? I don't know. Do we know if using a certain medicine will be definitively better or will it make something worse in every situation? I don't know. I think that as humans we will always be curious about whether we can can change the world around us to do what we want it to do. But I think it should be done under strictly experimental conditions until all the impacts are observed and noted and until then it shouldn't be applied on any sort of large scale. That's a grey zone because you don't really know when that happens. I don't think the effort here should be about answering a yes-or-no question; effort should be put into seeing if we can experiment in the right way."
Ithaca, NY | Wegman's

"Coming from a creative writing major, I guess the issue needs to be addressed very heavily and it needs to honestly go a lot higher than it has been in terms of publicity. It's great that you guys are coming here to people and asking them about it, but certainly things like this can definitely be considered on a higher standard. I think it's a very pressing issue and definitely needs to be addressed. It can be brought up pretty much to the college level even down even to the grade schools."

"What about a specific application of synthetic biology, like an environmental filter?"

"Absolutely! Yeah, I think it's fine. As long as it brings an impact that can definitely be used in a positive way and definitely enhance the communities around and stuff like that, I see no real issues with it."
Ithaca, NY | Wegman's

"It's bad! It's not natural... But if it is only for the research then it is okay."

"It's very cool, it's like great technology, but whenever you do it to food it's probably not very healthy. It's like a coin with two sides."
Ithaca, NY | Wegman's

[About genetically modified organisms in food]

"I'd like to see what the evidence is eventually. I try to avoid things that might be a potential problem, so like you said: buy a lot of organic food, and if it's certified organic food then it's not going to have GMO's in it any way, hopefully."

"On the flip side, do you think if GMOs helped solve underfeeding with something like Golden Rice - would that be a benefit?"

"I think so. We are fortunate enough to have choices here, but on the same token, I'd like to see what the evidence is as far as if it is actually beneficial or harmful, as far as the science of it, but I think giving people access to food is important. I don't want people to starve because I want to know what's in what I eat. I'd like to see sort of less politicized evidence-I'd like to see the actual science of it... I'm an evidence-based person, so I want to see what the evidence is."
Ithaca, NY | Wegman's

[Midway through our conversation]

"By the way, I'm a biophysics grad student."

"Oh, so what do you think about making a tool by modifying bacteria?"

"As long as the strain is not harmful, I don't have a problem with it. And as long as it is following the infectious disease rules, I'm fine with it. So you're not offending me."
Ithaca, NY | Wegman's with some radishes

"Environmentally, I think I would go for natural things more and I would imagine it would be healthier too. And we know that plants and vegetables, fruits, and trees that we are familiar with have been in existence for thousands of years so we know about them, but this mutation and biology that is being implemented and developed - we don't know anything about it. It's still in the experimental stage and personally I am a nature person - I don't like artificial things.

"...I mean if it helps people, ultimately I think it is a good thing. I mean if you go to Africa or some of the less developed countries their goal is really survival they are not thinking about organic versus artificially developed foods. So first you want to meet the basic needs of human beings- help them! - then if you can have the luxury of distinguishing between organic and inorganic foods then I think we would do that. I would go for organic. Like here for example: Cornell, Ithaca."
Ithaca, NY | Ho Plaza, Cornell University

"I feel the way most people do, that GMOs are not exactly natural. I believe it is dangerous to rely on genetic engineering to continue producing high quantities of low cost food. However, as a future scientist working with synthetic biology, I can see great opportunities for us to better the world, to fix the problems that humans have caused. That line between right and wrong, is extremely difficult to define and I hope that others will understand that as scientists working to solve many problems, it is hard for us to see that line too. It bothers me that whenever people see: "GMO" they immediately pass it off as something bad or unnatural. There are many reasons why GMOs are used in agriculture-there are too many mouths to feed on this planet - and if it were a choice between starvation and GMO food on the table, which would you choose? If people are so concerned about GMOs being used in farming, then they should encourage small farms and the next generation to pick up farming. It is hands down the most important job in the world-I wish people could understand that."
Ithaca, NY | by Carpenter Hall, Cornell University

"Humans have always used animals to do experiments. Like rats, mice, and I wouldn't say that it is a problem. I mean you have to use it with conscience. For me it is fine if you can follow the ethical rules."

"I agree with using animals to studies because I think it is important to improve the area - the scientific area - and I think that if you follow the ethical rules to use the animals then everything is fine and we can keep on using animals for science."

"Yeah. You have to care about the animals because they are helping you-you are not just using them, they are not your property so you have to treat them well. You have to respect another life."

If you could make any animal do something with biological engineering, what would you do?

"Well I personally would like to fly so if there is a way to make humans fly, like frogs have that -- to breath under water... I would really like that."
Ithaca, NY | Wegman's

"I think there is definitely a limitation for where we're going, but for something like this where it improves pollution, I don't see how it is going past that limitation yet."

What limitation are you talking about?

"Um, I guess in terms of ethics, something that directly effects some type of life, like if it is harming a certain organism, but in this case I just feel like it is benefiting society in general."

Do you think that line is hard to define? If it is harming the organism, but benefiting society a lot is that still okay?

"Definitely because people have different ideas of what life is in general so there are definitely different perspectives of what is right or wrong so I guess it's important to communicate and try to find a good compromise."
Joseph, OR | Wallowa Lake

"I believe that synthetic biology holds promise for either solving or reducing the impact of many of humanities greatest challenges ranging from disease, to famine, to pollution which have so far evaded solution using other technologies…One concern of synthetic biology is that there may be people who would use the technology to the detriment of society. Another possible risk is that something is created that has an unintended affect that goes unnoticed for too long. For those reasons, people involved in the field need to have high ethical standards and rigorous testing of products should be completed prior to release. However, I see the potential benefits of synthetic biology far outweighing the concerns."

Do you have any concerns regarding genetically modified foods?

"I think food, which is very personal, can have a high “worry factor” regarding whether it is safe and that something as complex as synthetic biology is difficult for people who are not in the field to understand. People tend to fear what they don’t understand. Perhaps people in the field/industry of synthetic biology could improve their image through education of the public regarding the products they provide."
Troutdale, OR | Angel's Rest

I believe that synthetic biology has many important applications, especially in a world where the population is growing and people are living longer. We are using more resources than ever and I believe that we need to use the tools at our disposal in order to decrease our negative impact on the earth. However, as with any new scientific process or technology, it is important to regulate it and educate people about these forms of synthetic biology.

What concerns do you have about genetically modified foods?

My concerns lie more in how genetically modified crops are tested and regulated. For example, when I take a prescription medication for a disease, or antibiotic for a bacterial infection, I am aware that the drug has undergone extensive research, including laboratory development, animal trials, and clinical trials before I personally am allowed to take it. It makes me feel safer knowing that these protocols are in place to insure that I am being treated in the safest way possible…Like medication, food is something that we ingest daily, and thus any food, genetically modified or not, needs to fulfill certain safety protocols. Genetically modified foods should go through extensive testing before they are marketed for human consumption because their biology has been altered.
Oxford iGEM | Oxford, UK.

"Should Synthetic Biology be open to everyone?"

"Absolutely, synthetic biology should be open to everyone, as in, everyone should have the opportunity to get involved in the actual process of it. However, like with any consumer good it should always be regulated for safety purposes and to avoid any ethical problems. The development background should always be made available to the consumer."

"Do you think that GMOs have the capacity to help the problem of overpopulation"

"Yes. I think they do. I think the public opinion of GMOs needs to be radically re-educated. I think a lot of people don't understand that it is completely natural occurrences as in DNA is involved in everything we eat. Everything we eat is organic, carbon based, and biologically occurring. Synthetic biology is the manipulation of living things which is what agriculture essentially is just over a much longer time period, and people still view it with a negative stigma."
Beaverton, OR | Community garden

"My opinion of synthetic biology is that it will have a positive impact on the world. I think it will help solve some of the big environmental problems we face such as pollution and depletion of some of our natural resources. I also believe it will be very important in developing new treatments for disease. I think there is lack of public support in this area of research because many people do not know much about it."

Do you have any concerns regarding genetically modified food?

"My concerns with genetically modified foods are that we start producing them for profit only and don’t carefully weigh the potential hazards. I am confident that the genetically modified foods we buy today are safe and have been properly regulated by our government, but I worry that as more and more are developed some governments may not properly regulate them."
Ithaca, NY

"What do you think about GMOs?"

"I think that it depends on the situation. I think synthetic biology is definitely something that we can't really turn back from anymore because we are always trying to progress as humans, but I think in a lot of cases we should be really cautious and not use it necessarily just because it's there. When I'm talking about food, a lot of times GMOs aren't really unsafe food, but it's still the idea that we are constantly trying to be better and progress and I think as with anything else, sometimes we should stop.
For example they made crops that are herbicide resistant so that they could spray more herbicides onto the crops so that they could grow more, and they really didn't need to grow more of those crops but they would save money if they did, so they did that and now they are spraying more chemicals. So the GMO resistance isn't really bad for us, but it encourages us to do more industrialized farming that isn't really necessary. "

"So where is the 'line' between appropriate and inappropriate GMO applications for you?"

"I thought that nutrient enriched crops were okay and good in poor countries; I thought that certain pest-resistant crops are neutral. . . ., but then there are other crops that are herbicide resistant and I think that that is too far because you are encouraging the use of more chemicals."
Montgomery, NJ | Bio classroom with a plant

"Do you think synthetic biology, in terms of genetic engineering, is moral or immoral?"

"If a child has some sort of congenital disease, I believe it would be moral to alter the disease so that the child wouldn't have to deal with it as an adult or a teenager. But, it would get unethical when you change the way a child looks or his or her personality, if you can even do that. Children are what they are when they are born, and it's unnatural if you try to change that."
Ithaca, NY

"To me, synthetic biology is artificially playing the genetics of organisms, changing them on the genetic life. I'm pretty neutral towards it. I mean, a lot of artificial organisms have been pretty helpful, so I can't see why we can't do synthetic biology."

What's your stance on GMOs - are they more helpful or harmful?

"I think a lot of different people are using GMOs these days. It actually helps a lot because they make the food bigger, or tastier, or more resistant to diseases. It helps us get the proper amount of food we need to sustain the human population - so I don't see anything wrong with that so long as the process isn't harmful to the environment in any way - which it's not... yet..."
Ithaca, NY

"Oh synthetic biology? We talked a little about that in my science class! It's super cool because smart scientists can use synthetic biology to insert jellyfish DNA into pig DNA. Do you know what happens then? The jellyfish DNA is able to make pigs glow. That way, farmers can keep track of their pigs at night time. With this new technology, farmers won't need to worry about losing pigs when it gets dark out!"
Ithaca, NY

What are some moral and ethical concerns?

"It could be used as a bioweapon, but it should be regulated enough that this shouldn't be an issue. The most dangerous thing is that it could be potentially dangerous to the researchers, especially if you are introducing new genes in bacteria that have never been observed before. If bacteria are dangerous and spread easily, new types diseases could be potentially created/spread if research isn't careful . There is so much good that could come out of synthetic biology though that as long as they have good regulations, it's fine."

What is your dream application of synthetic biology?

"It'd be awesome for any sort of medical application. If bacteria could be used to generate power or used as fuel source that'd be cool too."
KoKo's Korean Restaurant | Ithaca, NY

"What do you think the field of computer science could contribute to biology?"

"The magic of the computer lies in its ability to remove the limitations of human capability. Whereas in the past our creativity was restricted by what was manually possible, today the computer is enabling discoveries that the mind is simply incapable of making on its own. I believe we will see the computer as an integral part of many of the seminal discoveries within synthetic biology in the next decade. Through the computer’s power in analyzing enormous sets of data and sheer calculating speed we will be able to make connections that were previously unfathomable. The use of DNA as storage and biological computing are fundamentally changing the definition of computers. We are only at the beginning - there are applications of computer science to synthetic biology and vice-versa that no one has yet imagined. There are algorithms to be discovered and research to be done and I will remain optimistic in watching the field grow out of its infancy and mature."
Ithaca, NY

Q: What are some ethical concerns you have regarding genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms?

A: I think there is something that has to be said with regards to how we are producing at a rate just to meet our population's needs as opposed to the natural rate of growth. For me, personally, I think that fighting nature in the sense that we are with genetic modification can pose a potential concern. That's not to say that I think that science has not done its due diligence with the process. I understand that there is a pressing need to produce at a higher rate, but I think that there are some moral concerns associated with opposing the natural rate.
Duffield Hall, Cornell University | Ithaca, NY Engineers hard at work pause to share some thoughts about SynBio

"What do you think about GMOs? What is the limit to what you would buy in terms of genetically modified food?"

"If it glows"
White Mountains, NH

Q. What do you think of Gene Therapy?

A. "I don’t know if it’s safe or not, but I think it makes sense as a direction to look for medicine, because the more we learn about what causes things to go wrong…the better."

Q. What is your opinion of the field of synthetic biology?

A. "I don’t have as much of a concern as some other people seem to have. I imagine with people it can be very helpful, with medicine and a lot of bad diseases. I guess it could be used in strange ways too, you know, maybe you can make me into the next Olympian!"
Ithaca, NY | Applefest

Scientists have recently genetically modified apples so that they can no longer brown, potentially cutting the price of selling sliced apples by 40 percent. What is your opinion on that, or towards genetically modified foods in general?

A. "I think on a semantic level, GMOs aren't any different from artificial selection. At a basic level, "genetically modified organisms" could apply to any organism selected for some trait. Traits often come about from mutations and I personally don't see any difference from waiting for nature to mess with DNA and us messing with DNA. I'm sure that there are scientific ways to show that there are issues that come from tinkering around with organisms, but I am also sure that there's evidence to show that it doesn't matter otherwise."
uOttawa iGEM | Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

How would you define synthetic biology?

Synthetic biology is the discipline that is going to change the world as we know it. Never before have we been able to design such complex biological machines; this one discipline alone opens to us the possibilities of producing green biofuels, targeting diseases in unprecedented ways, and making other planets habitable - simultaneously. SynBio is one of the most rapidly expanding fields in the world of science, and it's exciting to wonder where we'll be able to take all of this in the upcoming years.
Ithaca, NY | Cornell University Libraries

What is your opinion on GMO’s?

"I wouldn’t buy them. But I actually do because it’s everywhere. Lately I have been trying to buy organic foods because this all seemed to come out of nowhere—it was just last year that I noticed it. So now you can find a lot more products that are non GMO."

Do you believe that organic foods are in fact better for you?

"I hope so, but whenever a trend comes on, like the organic foods, you tend to question if it really is good for you."
Ithaca, NY | Cornell University Libraries

"It’s basically taking an organism and changing it for a different use than it is already."

How do you think synthetic biology can help and/or hurt people?

"I think it could definitely help in the medical field."

Do you have any concerns about genetic engineering?

"Well there can always be making a squirrel more vicious. Or some other animal that could hurt people. But that would hopefully be in a lab, and unless they let it escape it wouldn’t really affect us that much."
Ithaca, NY | Cornell University Libraries

What do you think synthetic biology is?

"What do I think it is? It’s like the story you were telling me about the strawberries. How there is such a difference between the normal ones that grow out in somebody’s yard and the ones you get when you’re going picking—there’s such a big difference in between them."

What is one problem you’d hope to see synthetic biology combat?

"Probably the food thing. You know, everybody has different opinions on different types of food. That would be one thing that would be good for somebody to look at and change."

Do you mean mediating opinions?

"It’s like the difference between the organic and the normal food. Just to figure out what people are doing to the normal food. Why people don’t want to eat or buy it."