Who is afraid of Synthetic Biology?
The mission – Conveying the message to the whole community
“Synthetic Biology” sounds like a very distant and complex field as well as being a fascinating field. This is the reason we decided to spread the team’s topic to as many people as possible who come from different backgrounds and ages. Kiryat Shmona is a small town bordering Lebanon and Syria. Surrounding the town are various types of settlements – Jewish settlements, Arab settlements, Kibbutzim (a type of communal village) and etc..
The concept is very familiar in the area we live: The northern periphery of Israel. Despite the cultural and economic disparities in the region, we decided to reach all population groups where it is possible to enrich their knowledge in the field of genetic engineering, At the same time to collect personal data. It is clear to us that the fact that we are participating in the competition is an extraordinary privilege we received and we wanted to share it with more groups.
We decided to approach everyone secular and religious; we went to Arab villages, kindergartens, old age homes, center for the blind and the cream of the crop – a respectable conference held at our high school. The topic of the conference: Synthetic Biology.
The messages conveyed at the multicultural meetings were scientific, educational, however at the same time motivational messages were transmitted by which anyone can fulfill their dream if only they are committed and willing to fulfill it.
Educational and scientific content at the multicultural meetings.
Wherever we visited we tailored the activity to the local culture and age.
The Center for the Blind – “Synthetic Biology Beyond Imagination.”
The blind population especially interested us, because we are talking about the sense of taste we thought that taste was very sharp with the blind. That called for us to prepare suitable activities for blind people and to have a more accurate explanation about Synthetic Biology.
The blind also came with the question whether it will be possible in the future to change the state of blindness? There is no way of knowing obviously, Synthetic Biology is beyond imagination. We left our day of activities t the Center for the Blind with great satisfaction, however, with a lot of scientific questions. We have a full career ahead to know how to answer the questions we received from the blind.
Here we understood once again how much science can change the lives for young people.
Kibbutz Hagoshrim – “Unbelievable… the children are not surprised
about the power of science, for them it’s child’s play.”
The kibbutz has a unique way of life in Israel. It is a collective farm or settlement in modern Israel. All the profits from the kibbutz businesses are equally divided between the members. They make a living mainly from farming and industrial manufacturing. The children are raised in a “children’s’ house” where they usually live together. We met a group of young children in the children’s house for an activity on the sense of taste and Synthetic Biology
EU- Science Night
Science Night is sponsored by the Tel Hai College as part of the EU's partnership. In the evening more than a thousand teenagers came to experience a scientific community activity. We decided to pass on this knowledge in two ways - Through a scientific booth where participants could get information about the competition, on the field and of course to experience a taste-related activity and synthetic biology. At the same time we gave a presentation of Team Danci-K8 to the city residents. Reactions from the audience were amazing and full of appreciation towards the team. It is important to note that the entire evening is in coordination with the EU as part of the agreement where science is accessible to all ages as part of the Horizon 2020 scientific activities with the entire EU communities simultaneously.
The second Synthetic Biology Convention
Synthetic Biology Convention for Youth from the Periphery The convention was held on the 14/10/2016 in our small city “Kiryat Shmona”. 200 youth from the northern periphery of Israel participated in the event. The convention included top lecturers from Israel in the field, young top of the line lecturers in academics and industry. All Israeli iGEM teams participated: Ben Gurion University, the Technion and us, a team of students from Danciger Darca High School.
200 students listened eagerly to the lectures and were extremely excited by meeting with the Israeli iGEM teams.
Our project includes genetic change that is not welcome by the entire population. It raises many concerns and questions we can not necessarily answer. To try to understand the perceptions of public opinion on this issue, we performed a number of steps:
- A public opinion survey - the survey examined the perceptions that exist about gene therapy. The survey was conducted through social networking by questioning students.
- A school debate on the issue.
- An interview with professionals who work in the field of our project.
Opinion polls: whether genetic modification is a blessed or cursed act
(perceptions about gene therapy)
- 300 participants answered the survey we distributed.
- Participants age groups from 15 to 65.
- 100% of participants stated and demonstrated that they understand and know what genetic modification is.
- 100% of participants recognized the potential in the field of genetic modification.
- 80% of participants agreed that the field of genetic engineering should be explored.
- 33% stated they were willing to experiment on their bodies genetic modification for example using the product "FLAVOFF". Most of those who agreed were 25 years old and younger.
Debate on the subject of genetic modification and ethics:
"Is genetic modification a blessed move or cursed?"
From the survey a need arose to conduct further investigation with a more targeted age range. We held the debate at school; Students from ninth through twelfth grade were invited to the debate. We were interested to see the reaction of the young audience regarding the ethical question. 250 students were present at the event. 2 students had prepared ahead arguments about the use of genetic modification. At the end of a heated and learning debate a vote was held in front of the young audience.
Results of the debate showed that the youth is very open to scientific changes, they are aware of the biological dangers however realize that research in this area and experience can save lives and improve the quality of life dramatically.
Recruiting the public - “FLAVOFF” for Everybody
After holding a public opinion poll we thought it necessary to deepen the knowledge about gene therapy in order to deepen their understanding in this area. The interview was conducted in order to understand professionally the degree of necessity in our product, the degree of success it may have for those who use it.
First we turned to professionals to hear their views about gene therapy.
Interview with Dietician – Mrs. Meirav Ben Zaken
Hello Meirav, How common is overweight?
Overweight is considered to be an epidemic. People invest a lot of money, time and energy to reduce weight gain. Overweight is common amongst children (and in on a steady rise), youth and mainly adults. I imagine it could be avoided if there was an option to receive guidance at a young age.
What is the importance of ensuring proper nutrition and avoiding overweight?
Good nutrition leads to a healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition enables the rejection or postponement of chronic diseases that may break out because of a poor diet as well as the genetic component. As far as a proper diet is concerned we have the ability to influence, the moment a chronic disease breaks out then it is no longer in our hands. Then the disease is treated by medicinal means. Overweight can cause a wide variety of diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, heart disease and various blood vessel related problems.
Who has the most chance of suffering from overweight?
Genetics - Obesity in the family increases the chances of obesity in children. Environment - an unhealthy lifestyle in sports and nutrition. To my great regret in recent years the culture of eating is unhealthy. People are in a hurry to eat fatty foods, fried foods and tend to eat snacks, which in turn eating fruits and vegetables are disappearing from the menu in most of the population in Israel. The amount of fat in junk food is very high. A person who eats a lot of cheap fast food may find himself in the obesity graph even if genetics is in his favour.
How do you check who is a person that suffers from overweight? What are the indicators? (What Is The Definition)?
Weight in kg. /height in cm. = BMI. With this definition – if the result is 20-25 then it is normal. Above those numbers it is overweight/ obesity.
What can be done to avoid reaching a situation of overweight?
Keep a healthy lifestyle which includes a variety of healthy foods. Do sport. In the end every human being will consume unhealthy foods, the thing here is proportion.
A significant portion of people with high affinity desire to eat sweet food, others like salty foods or dislike bitter foods. Theoretically if we succeed in changing the desire for sweet things, would it be possible to maintain the desired weight?
Of course, most of the people fighting to maintain a steady weight are addicted to sweet tastes. Change could help them with their inner fight which exists while on diet. But .. how is that possible?
- That is our secret…
- I would be happy to use that secret to help ease the fight for my patients.
We exposed the idea in every way possible: social networks, in the center of the business district, at the “Science Night” event, targeted interviews, by using the local and national media. We built a marketing layout and explanation in school and therefore we also held the convention with the classes of excellence. During the conference a philosophical discussion was held and dealt with genetic modification.
We conducted an opinion poll for the locals and for the other teams competing in IGEM.
We hope that, with the variety of activities described in this section we were able to change the concepts of the common citizen.
Science in the media - it is all a matter of perspective
We turned to the media to spread the research area we are dealing with. Our turning to the media was done in order to raise attention and attempt to clarify a modern standpoint in the area of molecular genetics. It was important for us to read posts from the public in order to understand their position about the ability to change the ability of taste in the mouth. We received positive feedback and very very interesting posts.
“What a brilliant idea! It doesn’t hurt and it works!! I am ready to be first in line. I have got the will power against chocolate”. (Galit)
“I come from a family who suffers from diabetes. If it is possible to prevent our descendants from the suffering, it is worth a try”. (Shira)
“I have been suffering from high blood pressure for 10 years, I wish I could bring back the lost time”. (Dubi)
“I would really love to but I’m afraid. Crispers? Sounds like a magic word…It is as if everything is possible here?” (Shulman)
We have no doubt in our minds that most of citizens in Israel know about the iGEM competition and surely our area of research. A lot is due to the exposure through media.
Once a week we updated the general audience about our progress in the lab by means of radio. People called the lab to show an interest and even called the radio program to get details.