Team:Oxford/Human Practices

iGEM Oxford 2016 - Cure for Copper

Human Practices


Our human practices work began with a public survey to investigate the issues people wanted to be addressed by an interdisciplinary science project. The outcome of this investigation was medicine/therapeutics.

The outcome of our first survey

As soon as we made the decision to investigate the use of bacteria as a medical treatment, we knew that we would have to approach human practices in two ways:

  • Establishing a dialogue with patients and doctors to integrate their requirements into our design.
  • Approaching the general public to address their concerns with synthetic biology and its use to genetically engineer organisms to treat disease, through engagement and education.


This page contains a brief overview of our discourse with patients and doctors, for more information on how these discussions impacted the design of our project, please click here.

How we integrated the feedback from patients and experts into the design of our project

Ethics and Safety

Having developed our idea to produce a probiotic therapeutic, we wanted to learn more about whether a treatment of this nature could ever actually be approved by the government. To do this, we turned to an expert: Jane Kaye, Professor of Health, Law and Policy, and Director of HeLEX (Centre for Health, Law and Emerging Technologies). She advised us that policy regarding emerging technologies is often linked to public perception, and that in turn, is linked to the safety and ethics research that has been done regarding the technology.

This conversation led us to strongly consider the safety and ethics of our project, and more widely, the ethics of using any sort of genetically engineered organism to treat human disease. Read more about safety here. For more information on our ethics research, including the concerns raised when we discussed the topic with the public, click here.

Public Engagement and Education

Our potential probiotic therapeutic is not the only genetically engineered probiotic treatment under investigation (1)(2). We believe that treatments of this nature could alter the shape of medicine, and so we were keen to discover and alter public opinion of synthetic biology and the use of genetically engineered bacteria to fight disease. We set out to engage and educate on a local, national and international scale, read about our efforts here.


  • (1) Steidler, L. (2003) ‘Genetically engineered probiotics’, Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 17(5), pp. 861–876. doi: 10.1016/s1521-6918(03)00072-6.
  • (2) Duan, F.F., Liu, J.H. and March, J.C. (2015) ‘Engineered Commensal bacteria Reprogram intestinal cells into glucose-responsive Insulin-Secreting cells for the treatment of diabetes’, Diabetes, 64(5), pp. 1794–1803. doi: 10.2337/db14-0635.