Before we launched our project, we conducted an online survey to find out the global trend of alcohol consumption and to see if our project would create an impact in the society. We received a total of 152 respondents, with the majority of them being students aged between 18-25 (87.4%). 91% of the respondents were from the United Kingdom (UK) and Europe and the remaining come from other parts of the world. Hence, the results of this survey may be able to provide some insights on the drinking habits of students within the UK and Europe.
Most of our respondents (77.5%) would go for a night out 1 to 2 times a week to have alcoholic beverages (84.7%). Half of them were mild drinkers who would consume only 1 to 2 units (based on unit guidelines by the UK Government guidelines) per night out. However, there is a significant group of respondents who would binge-drink (consume more than 6 units) (10.3%) and drink to get drunk (36.7%). Many of them also could not control how much they consume (88.6%) and some would get themselves into “trouble” because of alcohol consumption (23.2%). These results may indicate that there is a serious issue of safety and alcoholism amongst a significant portion of the students in society. This also suggests that an alcohol-measuring device, such as our AlcoPatch, may be able to help people keep track of how much alcohol they have consumed.
When asked if they would benefit from wearing a device like our AlcoPatch, majority said ‘yes’ (52.7%).
Overall, this survey appears to represent students aged 18-25, living in the UK or in Europe. It indicates that over half of them struggle to keep track of their alcohol intake and a quarter of them struggle to control how much they consume. It appears that a device, which could help people measure and keep track of their alcohol intake, would be in demand and also could help prevent dangerous situations from occurring, as a quarter of participants said they have gotten into trouble because of drinking.
British Science Week
British Science Week (BSW) is a celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths. As Manchester, United Kingdom, was chosen to be the European City of Science 2016, the University of Manchester organised BSW to inspire the next generation of scientists, targeting a wide age group of school pupils . Being our first team outreach activity, we set up a stall aimed at increasing the awareness of different methods in the production of chemicals. We informed the pupils that scented compounds could be produced through conventional farming, synthetic biology (Genetically Modified Organisms) and synthetic chemistry. We discussed the benefits and drawbacks of each method of production and allowed them to form their own opinions as to which method was preferable. The general feedback from the pupils indicated that the conventional farming and synthetic biology method were preferred.
This event gave us some first hand experience with answering questions and the public reception related to synthetic biology. This led us to believe that our AlcoPatch has the potential of being accepted by the public despite having to genetically modify bacteria.
Microbiology Society Conference
We attended the Microbiology Society Conference and gave a poster presentation on our preliminary research proposal . We gained positive feedback as well as criticism of our project from academics and previous iGEM teams . We also gave an oral presentation of our project to a room of microbiology society members and answered their questions on our mechanisms. We used the feedback to continue researching and revising our project.
One suggestion was to try other metabolites in our mechanism. We researched into this and found that we could use glucose in place of ethanol. This was because a simple change from alcohol oxidase to glucose oxidase would be needed for the Cell-free Mechanism to detect glucose instead. This led us to conduct the pilot experiment and also allowed us to produce preliminary data. This data could be used by future iGEM teams and for our own testing and modelling.
Another suggestion was that we could make our AlcoPatch into a “funky colour changing tattoo” (Glasglow Team, 2015). After some market research, we found an article about a research group from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) who had “developed a new tattoo-based wearable alcohol sensor” (Jayoung Kim, PhD. quoted from qz.com). This tattoo measures ethanol concentration in sweat electronically. In order to solve the problem of consumers sweating at different rates, the Californian researchers built the device to “[deliver] a drug called pilocarpine, which generates sweat on the surface of the skin”. This was a problem we had also encountered and the potential of using pilocarpine has now been highlighted to us if we were to produce the AlcoPatch in the future.
ESOF Poster Presentation
We attended the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) held in Manchester, United Kingdom. This was a chance to share our project with researchers from around the world. We explained our project to various attendees, which gave our team a practice of sharing our project and answering questions before the UK Meet Up. Researchers commended us for the exploration of two different mechanisms but also raised concerns for the marketing of the AlcoPatch. This was due to the public perception of Genetically Modified Organsims, as well as the worry of the AlcoPatch being misused as a drinking game.
We also attended a talk about biotechnology and the progression of scientific research within today’s society. This ended with a thorough discussion about multidisciplinary research. Our team contributed by talking about our multidisciplinary iGEM team experience. We highlighted the potential of our multidisciplinary team which has allowed each member to contribute their own talents to form an equally driven and successful team. The majority of attendees agreed that but a concern was raised on communication between different specialists within a multidisciplinary team. Our team faced this issue and overcame it by having a ‘Ensemble Modelling Crash Course’ (Our Modelling Page). This greatly helped the biologists in having a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms.
Manchester Evening News
We contacted Manchester Evening News who expressed an interest in publishing an article on our project. Bethany Abbit (reporter) conducted a phone interview and asked questions about our project. A photographer was sent to record a short interview about our project and take photos of our team around the lab . This was a great opportunity for us to reach out to a larger audience in Greater Manchester and globally. (Our articles: 'The young scientists developing a patch that measures levels of alcohol in sweat' and 'Manchester University scientists hope this sweat patch will tell you how much alcohol you've drunk'.)
Our project received mixed reviews on the online articles. Three comments were particularly interesting; two of which were negative claiming it was a “waste of time and energy” and “I never wanted to know how drunk I was when I used to gulp down fourteen pints”. This shows reluctance from some members of the general public to uptake a device like this. The third comment pointed out that some people may be unwilling to measure how drunk they are but if you “have to drive the following day… this is also a good tool” and brought up the idea of people with medical conditions who have to limit alcohol intake using the tool.
We took part in a crowdfunding competition conducted by Experiment.com to get funding to attend the Giant Jamboree. This competition allowed us to promote our project globally and gave us the insight into the knowledge of crowdsourcing. We also made a video (click herefor our video!) to better understand our project. Although the crowdfunding came short, we learnt many valuable outreach skills and employed them in obtaining funds elsewhere. Fortunately for us, these skills employed have enabled us to obtain sufficient funds to fly us to Boston!
The articles published by Manchester Evening News gained attention from Anna Russell from Heart FM . She contacted us and requested for an interview to be aired on Heart FM. We discussed about our project and the possible applications of AlcoPatch in a real-world context. The interview was aired during their Saturday morning segment on the 30th of July.
UK Meet up
We attended the UK Meet Up in London,United Kingdom, organised by the University of Westminster. There were talks by Meagan Lizarazo from iGEM Headquarters and Dr Smith from KCL (amongst other external speakers). We were given the chance to present our work to other UK iGEM teams as well as attend a poster presentation event. The University of Westminster iGEM team suggested that we could create an app that could scan the colour from the patch and inform the user on what the colour means. Dr Smith also suggested that we should target our project to people who do not want to get drunk instead of targeting it to people who would like to know how drunk they are. This is because of concerns that the AlcoPatch could be misused as a drinking game instead of being used as an awareness tool. This kind of feedback, which reflected many of our other interactions with potential users, made us even more aware of how important the responsible communication of our science will be.