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Let's PLAy project - Bioproduction of PLA

Educative Survey

We started our human practices investigations by conducting a survey. Our main goal was to understand PLA knowledge and acceptance from the general public. But we also wanted to make a useful "educative survey" by providing useful knowledge on PLA to respondents.

In order to make a proper survey, we needed follow a good methodology, and to understand our bias. Therefore, we asked some methodological advices to Marie Beigelman, a student at ENSAE, the French National School for Statistics and Administration. You can find the link for the surveyhere.


The French Robert dictionary defines a survey as an investigation aiming at identifying opinion repartitions according to a population sample. Two words were of importance to us : sample and investigation; and we kept them in mind for the redaction of the survey and the treatment of data.

Definition of the content

We tried to formulate our questions in the most possible neutral way. But as we decided to provide respondents with further information on the topic of PLA, we managed the organisation of the survey so that the respondent would not look at the extra informations at the same time as he is answering the question - otherwise the answers would have been biased.

Another element we took care of was to diversify the kind of questions asked in order to enable respondents to express themselves further than ticking boxes. Thus, we varied between opened and close questions.

Limits of the survey

Given the methodology chosen for spreading the survey was digital, there are some limits we have to take into account:

  • As we focused on University-related networks, our sample is mainly composed of educated-people and youth.
  • As we provided facts along the survey, it parasited their initial point of view. However, it is objectively good because it enabled them to know a bit more about PLA properties and some environmental issues.

Definition of our sample (281 answers)

  • Our most typical respondent came from Europe, aged between 18 and 2 and knows about synthetic biology
  • Our less typical respondent came from Oceania, is less than 18 and doesn’t know about synthetic biology
  • 13% of respondents are unaware of synthetic biology subjects


Figure 1. Sample distribution in continents.


Figure 2. Sample age distribution.

Table 1. Sample familiarity with Biology and Syn. biology.

Familiarity N (=281) %
None 37 13,17
Yes, both (biology and synthetic biology) 187 66,55
Yes (biology) but not with synthetic biology 57 20,28


Ways of spreading the survey

The spreading method we used was internet through facebook and email. The main reasons of this choice was that it was the most efficient and practical way to reach a high number of respondents. But it was also a really good way to reach populations with different backgrounds as we wanted to get answers from biologists and non-biologists.

At first, we contacted iGEM teams through mails and facebook publications on iGEM-related pages. In order to enhance cooperation with some iGEM teams, we established a badge system between a gold badge for teams who helped us the most spreading our survey - Aachen, Bettencourt and Freiburg team - and silver badge for others teams who participated - UPMC, Eindhoven and Valencia teams.

In order to reach biologists from outside of the iGEM community, we identified some relevant facebook groups. To find them, we used random keywords on the toolbar such as “bioplastic”, “PLA”. But we also wanted to reach people with no specific interest in our topic, and that is why we looked for student facebook groups from non-biologic fields. We thus looked for students in literature, law, arts,etc.

Another point which was important to us was to reach respondents from different continents, especially in Africa and Europe because we would link some human practices aspects to those continents.

In Europe, we had a good proportion of results. However, we had a small proportion of respondents from Africa. Thus, we decided to contact student universities administrations from some African universities in order to ask them to spread the survey to their students. We contacted 30 Universities but we received few answers to our mails. However, we assumed that a part of them did spread our survey since the number of respondents from Africa rose a lot soon after sending our mails. Besides, we have received a message from a student of the University of Cape Town, who encouraged us in our project after being informed on our survey.


Figure 3. PLA applications and participants use.

Eventually, is our public ready to use PLA? Yes. If they had to choose between PLA and another petroleum-based product, 88.3% of our respondents would choose PLA. Besides, even if it is produced by a bacteria- that is generally associated with danger from the general public, our respondents would be likely to use PLA in their daily life.