Survey About Biotechnology
With this survey we intended to get an overview about what people already know about Vitamin B12 and what is their opinion to biotechnology in general.
The responses told us a lot about the knowledge of the people about biotechnology which is still lacking since most people think they rarely use products that are produced biotechnologically. Nevertheless, the majority of people see a high potential in biotechnology and synthetic biology, which includes production of Vitamin B12 .
Moreover, even if many people say they eat meat twice or three times a week, many people do not think they use a product that was produced biotechnolgically daily.
Furthermore, it is to mention that most of the participants of the survey were biologists, which could distort some results. Hence, it is important to mention that most people see a high potential for biotechnology in various fields, like diagnostics, food processing and industrial production. An important point is that most people think that biotechnolgy is a very powerful tool but needs to be carefully handled, hinting towards the awareness of new biologists for the consequneces of their work.
One important goal of the iGEM competition is to get attention by the public, and awake people’s interest in a scientific field which plays a very important role in all our everyday lifes: Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology. In order to achieve this, and to spread our ideas and views regarding this topic, the iGEM Team Düsseldorf initialized a postcard campaign. Besides our team and team Düsseldorf, also the teams from Aachen, Bielefeld, Darmstadt, Erlangen, Hannover and Tübingen took part.
The concept of this campaign was that iGEM Teams from all over Germany design postcards with an important aspect of Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology combined with a catchy motif, and exchange them with all the other teams. Now having a large variety of different postcards, the teams distribute them to the public. The aim is to give non-scientists an understanding of Synthetic Biology, what this means, and in which parts of our life it is involved. In order to give an impuls of thinking, we decided to create a postcard with the title “TOP DOWN is sometimes the right way” - according to the strategy of synthetic biology we applied in our project.
The postcards from the participating teams.
We took this great opportunity also to get in direct contact with generally educated people, who are no natural scientists. Distributing the postcards on both campuses of Göttingen, we came in direct dialogue with students of, for instance, economics, medicine, mathematics, law, philosophy, and school teaching. We invited them for discussions about genetically organisms, challenges, risks, and necessities to use GMOs to solve severe problems of our world. Many of them had an approximate idea of biotechnology, but were indeed surprised, that Synthetic Biology might be such a clean and effective alternative to traditional applications. A great example: Although knowing that cheese can be fermented with microbial rennet enzyme, several vegetarians were not aware of the fact that it can only be produced by GMOs. After all, we see that most educated people have an idea about it, however, we see that there is still a lot of potential to strengthen the awareness of the importance of Synthetic Biology.
We think that this post card campaign was a big success, because using postcards as a medium, we also reached people with many different educational backgrounds. Furthermore, combining it with engagement work, we reached people directly.
Since 2014, the student council of our faculty organizes so called Bio&Pretzel talks, in a semi-formal atmospherere with beer and pretzels. The speaker, usually a professor or assistant professor, gives insight in his scientific field for a general audience: school students, freshmen of the university, relatives of the students, but also for ongoing scientists themselves. The aim of these talks is to inform the general audience, but also to give insights for ongoing scientists still looking for their scientific profession. Thus, it was a great honor for us as the iGEM team to have this opportunity. We talked about synthetic biology in general and the awesome applications which might be possible in the future, and of course the responsibility which comes with it. We also outlined the idea of the iGEM competition, and presented our own topic. We told the audience about the importance of Vitamin B12, from which nutrients it can be uptaken, and how we could improve the efficiency of production with our synporter.
Our talk was received very well by the audience, and numerous questions from the scientific fraction were asked and answered. Probably the most important non-scientific question of the evening was, if, as beer is also containing a lot of vitamins, beer would be a good source of vitamin B12. Sadly, we had to clarify that a human would need to drink 100 L of beer per day – which we do not recommend at all for a healthy and balanced nutrition.
Back to School
We think that school students are a very important target audience. Therefore, we went to the Grotefend Gymnasium in Hann. Münden to introduce the students (age 16-18) into synthetic biology as well as the iGEM competition and our project.
We think that it is very important for the students to get an idea about the countless opportunities biology offers and the impact of all fields of biology on our daily life. When finishing school and thinking about academic studies, we know from our own experience that we weren’t too comfortable with synthetic biology and what it meant at this point of our lives. But this is what we are doing now and to give those young people an insight in this endless field of research we visited them and gave our best to show them the high potential.
After introducing them into the everyday life of a student, we went over to explaining what synthetic biology is and which impact it already has on our life. Especially at this point we realized that it was worth to come as most of the students were fascinated about the importance of research in this area. Finally, we could tell them about the iGEM competition and the way how students from all over the world work in their teams to make the world a bit better. We limited ourselves to state our project in a quite simple and understandable way, to not scare them but make them interested.
All in all we really enjoyed the day with the students and hope that all of them will go their own way no matter if they go into science or somewhere else.