Despite the prevalence of endometriosis—1 in 10 women have the disease—it is a still widely unknown and misunderstood. Through both presentations and social media, we were able to share our work with a variety of audiences, from young children and their parents to experienced industry scientists, and educate the public about both synthetic biology and endometriosis. Here are some of our accomplishments:
Building with Biology
In June, the 2016 MIT iGEM volunteered at the Building with Biology event at the Museum of Science in Boston. A project held at over 200 sites across the country, Building with Biology uses “public engagement with science (PES) activities to extend STEM learning” (http://www.buildingwithbiology.org). The overarching goal is to facilitate conversation between scientists and the public about the emerging field of synthetic biology and its societal implications.
The event began out on the museum floor where we helped children and their families participate in hands-on activities. “Bio Bistro,” for example, was an activity in which visitors were presented with food products made possible through synthetic biology. They were asked to sort the items into foods they would, would not, or might eat. Each visitor shared the reasoning behind their choices, and we were able to have a conversation about what motivated researchers to make these products and what the visitors did or didn’t like about the end result. The main purpose of the hands-on activities such as “Bio Bistro” was to increase public awareness about synthetic biology, namely the opportunities it offers and how we all have a role in determining how new technology is developed and used. We very much enjoyed having opportunity to inform kids about the exciting things coming from synthetic biology and hear their opinions about science.
While the mornings’ activities were geared towards a younger audience, the Building with Biology event closed with a forum aimed towards adults. Here we participated alongside members of the public, helping facilitate a discussion about the merits and drawbacks of genetically engineering the mosquito. With the recent news surrounding the Zika virus, the discussion was particularly relevant to ongoing conversations in both the scientific community and the public sphere. The nature of the forum was to promote a dialogue about synthetic biology and the inherent risks, opportunities, and benefits of new technologies. This forum gave us the chance to hear members of the public voice their concerns about, as well as their interest in, synthetic biology. The differing perspectives in the room contributed to an enlightening discussion not only about genetically engineering the mosquito, but also about the social and ethical questions raised when deciding to implement any new technology.
The Building with Biology event gave us the opportunity to share our knowledge of synthetic biology with the public, and, more importantly, gain an awareness of societal values and priorities and how this might shape the field of synthetic biology in the years to come.
Online Articles on Social Media
One of our team members writes for the online publication Odyssey. Over the summer, she published three articles related to our iGEM project: an overview about iGEM and endometriosis, a summary of the first New England iGEM Meetup (NEGEM), and a history of endometriosis. These articles were shared across social media including Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Reddit, to engage the public with our project and to raise awareness of endometriosis. By sharing information about our project in online endometriosis communities, we were able to receive feedback on our design to make it more useful and informationally accurate.
We presented our work at LabCentral and Monsanto and learned about synthetic biology in industry.