Team:Wageningen UR/HP/Gold

Wageningen UR iGEM 2016


Beekeepers Experts DAE Synenergene RIVM comic

Our Vision

"Collaboration leads to a better and more accepted technology"

Consultation with both university specialists and beekeepers has pointed out the main cause of the Colony Collapse Disorder: Varroa destructor. Our collaboration with the Design Academy Eindhoven has led to a design of our final application, and in collaboration with Synenergene and Resource Wageningen we created a magazine of the future where we illustrated the techno-moral consequences of our technology. We invited the other Dutch iGEM teams for a national meetup. Finally, we organized and attended multiple events related to synthetic biology.

We contacted the NBV, Dutch Association for Beekeepers, in order to understand the impact of V. destructor on bees and beekeepers. In addition, Bob Mulder, the communication specialist of Wageningen UR and team adviser, pointed out the following principle: "Don’t change the consumer, change the technology". After several conversations with beekeepers from the NBV and through Bob Mulders advice, it became clear that an improved product must meet the following criteria:

  • It should be effective and specific, not killing the bees or have any negative influence on the beekeepers.
  • It should be adapted to the hobbyist character of beekeeping, ensuring the viability of E. coli in the sugar water so no changes have to be made in beekeeping practices.
  • It should not interfere with honey, like the curent usage of thymol does.


We contacted the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) to help us in designing an applicable format for BeeT. After mutual visits, a design student from the DAE – Thieu Custers - proposed a product that incorporated the daily practices of beekeepers and BeeT: A juicebox-like product that beekeepers apply to the sugar water just before the start of the winter.

BeeT design and product description by Thieu Custers, Design Academy Eindhoven.

"I am interested in combining disciplines to discuss ideas and come to new solutions. By using science and art together, I aim to tell stories about what could be our future. I want to take existing conflicts or themes and envision what could be their consequences or solutions, to broaden our understanding of the present.

BeeT is an innovative approach to solving a man-made problem. Implementing a genetically engineered bacterium into the agricultural sector is something that should be done carefully. It opens up a dialogue about the use of altered organisms in daily life. Communicating both the risks and the merits of such a precise tool is the most important to me. Genetic engineering is a new technology that is met with a lot of fear, but by completely and openly showing the inner workings, it can be assessed honestly.

With BeeT specifically, the challenge is going to be to gain acceptance in the world of beekeeping. The design of the BeeT container is meant to be clear in use, and will show which hive is currently being treated with the bacteria. The marking label is still connected to the container of the bacteria, ensuring no mix up of labelling."

BeeT will, via the sugar water, end up in the brood food and be transported to cells where bee larvae grow and where the mites are present. Inside the cell it will "sense" and kill the mite, strongly increasing the chances of survival for the colony. Existing technologies use for example thymol, a pure toxin. Thymol is not only toxic to mites, but to bees as well. It has to be applied three times a year and interferes with honey, which can make it taste like mouthwash. The "do not change the consumer principle" turned out to be an important input point. Rather than requiring that beekeepers have to change the sugar baskets they use (since some of them are not completely dark), we decided adapt the system in such a way that it will not be killed by the light of the sugar basket. A box-like product is the most ideal form since it can be applied to all sugar-water-basket systems.



We initiated contact with students from the Design Academy Eindhoven to enhance the interdisciplinarity of our project. We met up several times and discussed science, society and where those overlap. Their views on our project and synbio in general helped us in designing our project and adapting it to real life demands. For a concrete collaboration, we asked one of the students – Thieu – to design our end product, BeeT, in a way it could be presented to future users. Our collaboration with the DAE did not only lead to us having a positively received final product design, but also led to our project influencing the design students’ projects. One of the students gave us the opportunity to have a “real life bee experience”. The aim of this project was to study group dynamics, stress, and teamwork. The task was to prepare a dish (Baklava) like bees would do it. Leif Czakai made a movie out of this.


Synenergene is a four year program to promote the dialogue about the future of synthetic biology between relevant stakeholders, contributing to responsible research and innovation. Synenergene partners, including the Rathenau institute, are in close collaboration with several iGEM teams from all over the world.

Our collaboration with Synenergene consisted of two assessments: an application scenario and a techno-moral vignette. The assessments were intended to help us evaluate the viability as well as the societal impact of our envisioned product. We chose to write a “Resource from the future” for our techno-moral vignette. “Resource” is the magazine and news website of students and employees of Wageningen UR. By writing a Resource from the year 2030, when BeeT will be available on the market, we aimed to bring up ethical issues around synthetic biology in a way that is fun and accessible to the public. Some of these issues are highlighted in the interviews with the general public we included in the magazine. At the same time, the magazine served to spread the word in Wageningen about our iGEM project. Additionally, we wrote an application scenario. This scenario explores how European legislation could affect future BeeT usage.

Click the front page to read our Resource from the future! The Resource is the student magazine of Wageningen University.


In the Netherlands, the RIVM (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu) is a governmental institute that is concerned with public health and a safe living environment. They investigate the impact of synthetic biology on these aspects of our society, and aim to bring existing knowledge on the topic together. Part of their work is encouraging discussions about the development of synthetic biology from a policymaker’s perspective, which includes a collaboration with all Dutch iGEM teams since 2014.

In short, we learned a lot from collaborating both with the RIVM and the Rathenau institute/Synenergene. The RIVM and Synenergene assignments helped us to think more in depth about different safety aspects, how safety by design can be achieved and our own opinions about it. We gained a new perspective on how biocontainment is perceived.


Throughout the year we have visited a lot of conferences with several goals: to inform different stakeholders about our project, to collect input on the BeeT system through different stages of the project, to network with companies and explore sponsor possibilities, and to have fun and learn some things ourselves.

  • March: multi-stakeholder dialogue

    "The role of synthetic biology in energy transition"

    Discussion about the current Dutch energy supply and the potential role of synthetic biology. We created “the green human” futuristic scenario where humans would evolve together with plants to be able to rely on photosynthesis for energy. In our opinion it exposes a very important aspect of both energy transition and synthetic biology: that the public should be involved, to be more conscious about energy use and more engaged with technological advances in the field of synthetic biology.

  • April: NBV and BioSB

    Annual conferences of the Nederlandse Biotechnologie Vereniging (NBV) or Dutch Biotechnology Association and the Bioinformatics and systems biology research school. Our goal: collect input, talk to potential sponsors and have fun.

  • April: DAE Meetings

    As mentioned in the collaboration section, we designed our project with the help of students from the Design Academy Eindhoven. We met with them twice: The first time, we visited them and took part in a design workshop. The second meeting was a lab day for them to see what our everyday life in the lab looks like.

  • May: National Meetup

    We organized the meet-up of all interested Dutch iGEM teams. Four teams took part: Groningen, Leiden, Eindhoven, and us.

  • June: Synenergene forum

    The Rathenau institute organised a conference, for relevant stakeholders regarding the future of synthetic biology, to explore the right conditions for responsible research and innovation.

  • September: RIVM forum

    Concluding our Collaboration with the RIVM, we attended a meeting organized by the RIVM and the Rathenau institute, with the theme: “Veilig verder met synthetische biologie”, or “Making safe progress in synthetic biology”. During this meeting we gave a short presentation about the topic of our project and how we integrated "Safe by design" through toxin specificity, controlled expression of the toxin and confinement of our product to the beehive.

  • October: Lunch lecture at Wageningen University

    The last month before the wiki-freeze we organized a lunch lecture at the university for researchers, beekeepers, students and other interested people to present our project and collect input for the last time.


We have contacted various newspaper and magazines to inform the public about our project. Not only did we tried to reach out to the Wageningen community but also to alumni, beekeepers, scientist from outside Wageningen and people who are interested in synthetic biology. Partly to receive input about or project and partly because we are just very proud about how our project turned out. We also proactively kept people updated with the help of a Social Media campaign.

Resource and Wageningen World

The resource is the magazine for students and employees of Wageningen University. They have dedicated several articles to our work. They focussed on the content of our project but also about our reach out to the public to raise money with a crowdfunding platform.

  • June: General article about our project.
  • July: article about our crowdfunding.
  • July: Blog inspired by our project.
  • August: article announcing that we will go to Boston with our project.
  • August: article directed at alumni of Wageningen UR with a request to help with crowdfunding.

People were able to leave us messages through the crowdfunding platform. Some of them we translated to English. Thank you for the kind words!

  • "As a beekeeper and a retired scientist I consider it important that an organic pesticide is discovered." - Anonymous
  • "A worldwide problem for bees, and therefore also for flowers and for people. A small token of support for a group of young scientists!" - Jos
  • "Original research to a main cause of CCD deserves support." - Roelf
  • "A lot of nonsense is being published on bees. These students try to solve the real problem. The mite is worse than insecticides. Luckily, Dutch bees are doing well now - but this is mainly due to the gentle winters. It can change all of a sudden." - Willem
  • "succezzzzz..... bzzzz...." - Animal Veterinarians de Peel
  • "Being an Wageningen University and Research alumni, and having worked the larger part of my career fighting international environmental crime as a law enforcement officer, I realize that the enforcement of rules and regulations are only the last resort of the path to a sustainable future. All starts with sound scientifical research into the causes and effects of environmental deterioration. I am happy to be able to contribute to this research project that focuses on one of the most mysterious yet biggest threat to a durable and adequate food chain to provide sustenance to a growing world population and may help the survival of a exemplary species." - Anonymous