Our human practices involve in several aspects including biosafety, social activity and public education. Our aSTARice is a genetically-modified organism, (GMO), so our work focuses on promotion of the knowledge for GMO and survey on people's concern about GMO.
First of all, we should make sure that we ourselves have correct understanding on the GMO issue, therefore, we took part in some lectures about GMO and food security.
We attended the lecture given by Jianping Kou from the Department of Science, Technology and Education of the Minstry of Agriculture of China; Min Lin from the Institute of Biotechnology of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences; Yongning Wu from the Key Laboratory of Food Safety Risk Assessment, Ministry of Health of China. In this talk, we obtained a lot of information in analysing GMO. In this lectures, we knew that transgenic food sold in market are safe because they were tested by many relevant departments and labs for many years. So far, only few transgenic products have permission to enter Chinese market. After lecture, we communicated with these scientists about new technologies used in transgenic researches.
To get a better understanding about agriculture, we joined the Sixth Asian Conference on Precision Agriculture as volunteers.
2. Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum
As most undergraduate students have no idea about how to carry out a biological project correctly, we held an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum in our college. We gave a speech on our projects and the ways to do our biological research. Our forum attracted more than 300 students and most of them were impressed in our project.
3. Laboratory Open Day
As many freshmen in our are eager to learn more about biological researchs in labs, we held a Laboratory Open Day for high school students, college students to visit our lab. We introduced the function of different equipments and showed them our video and posters. Our efforts might enhance the understanding of science and technology, so the students may love science and work on science in the future.
4. Guideposts Making
Our university is quite large and contains several districts, the visitors always get lost in our campus. To help new students in finding their directions, we made many "iGEM guideposts" and placed them in different corners of our campus. We wanted to provide convenience for others. Meanwhile, we could also popularize scientific knowledge.
5. Biological graffiti painting
The dormitory area of many students in our university is far away from the main campus. we have to cross a boring as well as dark tunnel to reach our lab or library. In this year, our university sponsored an event to beautify the tunnel. We participated in this activity and painted a part of this tunnel. Our graffiti showed a large plant cell and its organelles.
6. Video making
To introduce our team and synthetic biology in a simple way, we made the videos and posters in a cheerful and colorful way.
7. Risk assessment
We used rice as a bioreactor to produce astaxanthin, and hope the aSTARice can serve as a food in human's daily life, so we are very cautious about the safety of aSTARice.
We believe that risks are mainly embodied in the following two aspects: one is that the encoding products of marker genes might be potentially toxic and allergenic for human or livestock. Antibiotic genes might be transferred into gut microbes' genome of humans or animals, increasing the resistance of the microbes to the antibiotics, and which results in reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics in clinical treatment; the other one is that marker genes could be spread through pollens or in other methods into other organisms, which is called genetic drift. Genetic drift can transfer antibiotic genes to weeds or other plants, which is threatening the ecological environment now.
In order to reduce the side effects of antibiotic marker genes, we use a technique called selectable marker-free technique in the project, so the final aSTARice is a marker-free transgenic plants (MFTPs). We design a Cre-LoxP based side-direct recombinant system to knock out hygromycin phosphotransferase gene, minimizing the effect of the selectable maker gene.
In order to reduce the risk of genetic drift as well as the threat to the ecological environment, we add isolation area to surround the experimental fields. By isolating the transgenic rice, we reduce the possibility of genetic drift caused by the transfer of the pollen, sufficiently guaranteeing the safety of the project. What's more, we are also analyzing coding products by HPLC and trying to make sure that there is no harmful products in our rice.
Rice was chosen as the chassis though it isn't included in the white line, but we checked-in with the official website in the beginning. Because we are the first team who choose rice as chassis, we have to assess the safety for rice.
Rice is the self-pollinated plant, the probability of crossing is just 1%, and the distance of the effective spread of rice pollen is hardly beyond 1 meter.
The phenomenon of pollen escape is the main way which leads to the flow of exogenous gene of transgene plants. Recently, the researches of transgene plants verified that the exogenous gene of transgene plants will flow to the same species or weeds and even the conventional species. As iGEMers, we took safety into consideration carefully so that we consulted plentiful papers, and then we found a conclusion that under the close distance less than 1% adjacent non-genetically modified plants would take place gene flow. If we increase the distance to 5~10 meters, the probabilities decrease to 0.001%~0.0001%, which means nearly no gene flow would happen in theory. When planting rice, we follow the safe regulations of transgenic plants strictly, to reduce the risk of gene flow.
8. Laws & regulations
The credibility of the policy about "aSTARice" transgenic rice project:
The Chinese government makes great effort to manage the safety of agricultural GMO, and has formed a set of laws which are suitable for Chinese domestic situation and consistent with international convention of laws and regulations, technical regulations and management system and has achieved remarkable results in accordance with the implementation of safety management.
(1) The legal system: the agricultural GMO safety management regulations, the measures for the administration of agricultural GMOs safety assessment, the safety measures for the administration of import of agricultural GMOs, the identification measures for the administration of GMOs, the agricultural genetically modified organisms processing measures for examination and approval, the inspection and quarantine measures for the administration of entry and exit of GMO products.
(2) The administrative management system: joint inter-ministerial meeting, agricultural genetically modified organisms safety management leading group, the provincial administrative department of agriculture, municipal (county) level administrative department of agriculture.
(3) Technical support system, safety evaluation, detection, monitoring and technical standards.