Syn-Bio logically explained: A dictionary
With the ongoing advances in synthetic biology, a distinct dialog between researchers and the public becomes more and more essential. While genetic engineering is a heavily discussed topic, communicative difficulties are often the starting point for misunderstandings, which leads to a twisted public opinion about synthetic biology. While working on our iGEM project, we have noticed that a lot of people outside of the scientific area have difficulties to understand our project. Since we are working on a highly specific issue, we assumed that people have trouble to comprehend the biological background of our project, but apparently we were wrong. We spoke with Florian Helfer, a student in cultural anthropology at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, who told us that the vocabulary we are using is too confusing for people who are not working in the field of synthetic biology.
To resolve this problem, we have designed and published a dictionary containing a list of scientific terms from synthetic biology and iGEM in general. These words and terms are described by using common English phrases and simplified as much as possible. We started our collection by gathering words we were commonly using in our everyday lab work, but we soon realized, that we have to expand our search, because a lot of words are deeply integrated in our daily language and we are not aware that they could be misunderstood or not understood at all. In addition to our work on the dictionary, we visited several school classes around Bielefeld, where we presented our work and general information about synthetic biology in front of the pupils. At the end of each presentation the students gave their feedback on how well the topic was understood and which terms and phrases created the most difficulties. These words were then included into our dictionary. With this, we hope to help other iGEM teams with their public outreach by giving them an opportunity to explain difficult tasks and processes in a way that is easier understandable for the broad public.