Throughout our project, we were conscious of important human practices considerations. As our ideas developed, we kept the following questions in mind and continued to iterate our design based on answers we received.
Should we use synthetic biology to solve the problem of excess phosphorus in wastewater?
To answer this question, we sought out experts that deal with phosphorus reclamation and talked to them about methods they use. We looked at these methods and discussed with the experts how we might design a system that was more effective.
How can we approach the public with a synthetic biology solution?
Some team members are iGEM veterans, and remember all to well being asked: “How will the public react to this genetically engineered organism?” We kept this in mid throughout the project and engaged with the public in person and through surveys to gage their reaction. Additionally, we were conscious of communication, and talked to communication experts on campus about how we could best communicate the science behind our project to lay people.
How can we make our solution a sustainable process?
Another important factor we wanted to consider was sustainability. How could we design our project to last, to be low maintenance, and to be cheap. We discussed these design concerns with agricultural experts at the USDA NSERL, businessmen at Purdue Foundry, and with industry experts to design a sustainable prototype.
How can we make our solution marketable?
On top of sustainability, we new our end product should be marketable. This idea influenced design criteria such as maintenance time, flow rates, phosphorus uptake efficiency, and prototype costs. We talked with many of the same experts that influenced our sustainability designs to arrive at target values that would result in a marketable prototype.
How can we make our solution useful beyond the scope of this problem (modular)?
This question was perhaps the easiest to answer, as most iGEM systems are modular by the nature of biobrick standards. To us, though, this meant .
How can we make our system safe to use?
This was the most important question we asked throughout our process, even though we answered it early on. We knew that if we were to suggest using E. coli in water in any form we would need to minimize the possibility of escape. We looked into immobilization and talked with experts on campus about how we could encase our organism in silica. This proved to be one of the biggest parts of our prototype and project.