From the Public
We designed a questionnaire and conducted an internet-based survey on antibiotic resistance, antibiotic residues and asked participants’ opinions (especially safety concerns) on our project. In general, the public underestimate the harm of antibiotic residues in environments and industrial products. In total, we got 1285 valid responses. Whilst most (58%) participants aged between 18-25 (possibly university students), we also received responses from students under 18 (14%) and those between 26 and 40 years old (27%). In terms of their education background, 16% of participants major in life sciences or medical sciences, while 25% learn other sciences. In addition, over a fifth of them are engineers (22%) while the remainder 16% major in art. So we believe our sample space is sufficiently large and representative (Fig. 1).
This figure presents part of the results of our internet-based survey on antibiotic residues (AR). 1285 valid responses were received in total. (a) Most use antibiotics according doctor’s prescription, but abuse in hospital is also a prominent problem. (b) Many of the participants are aware of AR in nature, especially in surface water, e.g. rivers and lakes. (c) However, quite a lot people know little about AR in food and water. A surprisingly small number of people know the fact that antibiotics are widely found in drinking water, as indicated in the graph. (d) Most people think it is OK to use artificial bacteria in WWTPs or hospitals to degrade AR as long as there is certain mechanism is deployed to make the system safe, which is exactly why we designed a double-function safe lock to prevent HGT and leakage at the same time.
We first asked them how they use antibiotics. While three quarters of them use antibiotics according to doctors’ prescriptions, around 15% of them use antibiotics by their own willingness, with still others never use antibiotics. Antibiotic abuse is one of the major causes for antibiotic resistance, and this has gained much awareness from the general public. In our survey, we found that nearly 60% of all participants know the terminology and the mechanism underlies. To surprise, only 39 people (3%) reported that they have never heard of it.
We also designed several questions on antibiotic residues, which is directly linked to our project. People tend to believe that antibiotic residues widely exist in nature. 55% of them believe that antibiotic residues can be found in sediments, and this proportion is the lowest among those chose surface/underground water and farm lands. In stark contrast, people overlook antibiotics found in their daily lives. Most of them (at least 67%) know that antibiotics can be detected in meats (poultries, fish and cattle), but only 30% said they know antibiotics occur in drinking water, with merely 24% chose honey.
At last, we asked people about security problems in our project. When questioned whether it is acceptable to use genetically modified organisms(GMOs) in waste water treatment plants(WWTPs) or hospitals to degrade antibiotics, only 11% of people found it unacceptable, with 9% strongly reject the use of any GMO outside laboratory. Most of them (72%) think it is acceptable as long as there are certain security measures. That is also why we designed a double-function safe lock, preventing horizontal-gene-transfer and bacteria escape at the same time (see our Design part).
What is more, we also observed that biological majors did not outperform non-biological majors on antibiotic residues. This indicates that even professionals know little about the scale and harm of antibiotic residues.
With Industrial Representatives
China, as the world’s biggest and the most fast-growing economy, is also catching up in scientific research. At an event, called Synthetic Biology: China Innovation for Global Bioeconomy, held at Penn Wharton China Center, Prof. James Schroeder lectured on how China as a rapidly developing synthetic biology market could lead rather than follow in some synthetic biology products and services (Fig. 4). Mr. Schroeder is a Penn Alumni and is the only patent attorney on the industrial advisory board of SynBERC (the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center), a major U.S. research program to make biology easier to engineer.
From Mr. Schroeder’s speech, we learned how synthetic biology could be applied to produce real products that are closely connected to environment protection, manufacture green material and so on.
Particularly, Mr. Schroeder also talked about how the iGEM competition has contributed to the development of synthetic biology and its industrialization. After the speech, we also talked with some investors from different countries, and learned that how government policy and support can influence their decisions, which is actually what synthetic biology lacks. We also discussed what makes a investor to support an idea or a start up focused on synthetic biology. Although it is really difficult for a project in laboratory to meet criteria for commercialization, we were really inspired how synthetic biology can make people live better in the future.
CCiC 2016 at SYSU
On the first weekend in September, we attended Central China iGEM Consortium (CCiC). CCiC is a national consortium held for iGEM teams in Mainland China, with the aim of imitating the procedure of Giant Jamboree in Boston and providing a platform for iGEMers to exchange ideas (Fig. 5). This year, hosted by Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, 28 Chinese teams came to CCiC, including PKU, SYSU, NJU and Tianjin University.
As a new team taking part in iGEM for the first time, we benefited a lot from it. We earnestly listened to other teams’ presentations, learning how they construct speeches and PPT and design their posters and souvenirs. Above that, we were lucky to meet tons of brilliant ideas on project design, data analysis and human practice. During the poster session, we introduced to interested attendees the disasters antibiotic abuse may cause and tried to arise their awareness of careful usage of antibiotics (Fig. 6).
In the morning on 4th SEP, we gave a presentation on our own project: the Ultra-sensitive Controllable Antibiotics Scavenger (Fig. 7). We explained our design and other work in detail, as well as introducing tremendous damages caused by antibiotic residues and our special design to solve this problem with the technique of SynBio. After presentation, we received a lot of attention from teachers and some other teams, further answering their questions about our project. We also got valuable feedbacks from other teachers and instructors
Meanwhile, teams like NJU provided us with some useful advice and generously shared their experience on hardware with us.
Besides, we made deeper communication with teams such as Tianjin, ZJU, OUC-China, and made collaboration with OUC to help them debug an important sequence which may influence their following work.
In CCiC, we tried our best to make everyone realize the importance of dealing with antibiotic residues more or less. Our team sincerely wish more and more people, especially technical talents, can join the battle against antibiotic abuse with us, creating a safer and healthier future for the human beings.