We are very concerned about the topics about public engagement and safety problem (about the transportation of biological products) in synthetic biology.
    Before we take up the challenge to address these topics, the identification of them are discussed in detail. We’ve considered the reason why the public need to engage in science, and what role they should play. In order to contribute to the popularization of synthetic biology, we also try to give some possible solutions, and try to apply them into reality. As for the safety problem, status quo of it is carefully investigated from as many aspects as possible. We give our own perception of it, and also try to give some suggestions.
Public engagement
    We have to admit that a similar concept in biology field, transgene, has been doubted since it came into being, and the idea of synthetic biology is heard much less, which make the public much easier to misunderstand it. Apparently, synthetic biology will not “save the world”, but it has great potential to make it a better one. As iGEMers, we hope to contribute to expand the public understanding of synthetic biology, so that to save the potential from the public’s misunderstanding. From another aspect, burying ourselves in the lab is not a sensible idea, so we need the voices outside lab to help us to know what we have been engaged in better. So we organized some activities concerned public engagement to interact with people. To our satisfactory, we got positive feedbacks and were inspired in a way.
    What role should the public play in science? We have been thinking about these since the beginning of our project. In China, people are familiar with the heated debate between the media people and the biologists about transgene. We wonder if synthetic biology will become the next topic? We consider the correct knowledge is the first thing that the public should have, for misunderstanding may lead to fear and rejection. And then they could engage in the process by giving suggestions from their aspect.


    So we attended STEM festival in Suzhou. STEM is a concept of education that advocates students learning like scientists and engineers, which fits well with the aspects of synthetic biology in a way.



    We set up a showcase in the exhibition hall with XJTLU. We have a poster to introduce the idea of synthetic biology and our team. What attracted people most was the room escape computer game. It made up a story in our lab, in which you have to find all the clues to decode the cipher in order to escape the room, and the key is the principle of our biological cipher machine. Since room escape is a popular game in China, we think fusing it with some basic knowledge in synthetic biology will make it easier to be taken. And it is welcomed!
    Those who came to the festival were mostly general public who were interested in science. We met a teacher who are fascinated by our idea and synthetic biology, and asked us to talk to his students about these. There were young people attracted by our computer game. However, they were baffled by the new idea it conveyed and eager to learn more about the knowledge behind it. Once curiosity was stimulated, learning efficiency doubles, which fited in exactly with our wishes. We were very pleased to see that we can make a difference.


    We also went to the Wuhan science & technology museum. We set up our showcase in the information exhibition hall, which is a hall set up for people to learn more about how information processes. And this is exactly the problem we are dealing with! And our showcase can provide a biological aspect of information processing, which enriched the knowledge of the hall.


    Here we played a decryption game with children using candies, which helped them to understand what we have been doing in a funny way. A video which told a story based on synthetic biology was also played beside the game area. Many kids were attracted by it and asked us to explain the details of it.


    We find it is a good way to introduce new idea to the public by integrating it with other funny things. It is obvious to see that the computer game and the interesting video conveyed the idea of synthetic biology do work in the process of public engagement. And it is better to set up our showcase at places that people would like to go at weekends, which allow us to attract more people’s attention, and make them feel that science can be part of their life.
    The improvement of public engagement still have a long way to go, and we believe that our mode can be helpful. The gap between labs and public is not so difficult to bridge, since we find most people are more than willing to engage in it, which is really encouraging.




Our Doubt
    During the summer vacation, due to G20 Summit in Hangzhou, our team had to carry some of our experimental materials away from our own lab, and shared the lab with other teams in China. In the train station, we passed the safety inspection successfully without any inquiry or check.
    One thing should be clarified first, at here the biological products mean the products we use for our biological experiment in the lab. And we carried them in tightly closed containers, with no chance flowing into the outside environment. The transportation was rather safe.
    Here are what we carried during the two journeys.



    Obviously, there was not any disease producing bacteria. And everything we carried was harmless. However, the detection for biological products arose our interest. Since synthetic biology is playing a more and more important role in the world, we do hope that everything it brought is advantageous. However, the transportation safety of biological products should be paid equal attention, in case of they become the new danger one day. We wonder if there is any measure in China to supervise the transportation of biological products now.


Our Investigation in five aspects


State’s laws and regulations
    We searched on a website called “PKU Law”, which is a famous database in China to search keywords in laws and regulations. In “Rules for the Implementation of Frontier Health and Quarantine Law of the People's Republic of China”, it has mentioned “biological materials” in two articles:


    Article 11 Special articles which enter or leave the country such as microzoaria, human tissue, biological, blood and hemoproducts shall be subject to health and quarantine inspection. The carrier, the shipper or the parcel sender of the above mentioned articles is required to declare at the health and quarantine organ for inspection. Without permission by the health and quarantine organ, there shall be no entry or exit of such articles.


    Article 19 The studies of the health and quarantine organ are as follows:
    (4) Carry out health and quarantine inspection of any special articles such as exported or imported microzoaria, biological, human tissue, blood and hemoproducts as well as some animals that may spread human epidemic diseases;


Train station
    We contacted a personnel working in the department of safety inspection in the train station. Below is the interview.
    Q: Can the safety inspection machine detect these biological products?
    A: Until now, the safety inspection machine do not have the function to detect biological products. It can only detect whether it is liquid or not. We need passengers to drink a sip of water. But if it is other products, we will treat accordingly.
    Q: Do you have any regulations to limit the category, quantity of biological products?
    A: The category, quantity of biological products must abide by the regulations made by quarantine department.
    Q: Currently, how do railway department detect biological products such as microorganism, DNA?
    A: Currently, we do not have specific inspection machine to detect biological products.
    Q: Is there an emergency plan to deal with events when biological products leak and spread?
    A: We have such an emergency plan. But in view of public opinion and the danger of panic, it is not appropriate to announce this plan.


    We contacted the safety inspection department in the airport. Following are our findings:
    a. Liquid is not allowed to be carried with passengers themselves.
    b. Airline safety inspection is more complicated than train station. Because airline transportation is composed of internal and overseas lines. If we go abroad, we should not only pass the safety inspection in the airport, but also pass the inspection from the customs. And every country may have different regulations on what can be imported and exported.
    c. For biological products, we should ask both the airline company and the state’s customs to make sure whether they are legal.


Express delivery
    We chose to investigate SF Express Company which is famous for its quality of service. Following is what we got:
    a. Inflammable and explosive articles can not be transported.
    b. Whether products can be transported or not depends on their staff’s inspection. They will provide on-site service.
    c. There are no specific regulations towards biological products.


Scanner seller
    We found a scanner seller online. On the online shop, we could only find hand-held metal detector which can only detect metal products. The inspection machine used in the train station and airport can not be sold online.




    We do not deny the possibility that our investigation is not general and complete enough. However, according to what we got so far, the regulation of biological products transportation is still not so clear to the public. We attributes this to the lack of popularization in biology field, which make the public do not have comprehensive understanding of biological products, and always get misled. The relevant department are aware of that, and choose to avoid public panic by control biological products in an inconspicuous way sometimes (such as do not announce the emergency plan for biological products leak), while the regulations are still sound.
    The field of synthetic biology is expanding and the industrialization of it is paid more and more attention. According to this trend, the policy maker should pay more attention to the regulation of biological products transportation on the one hand, for it might be a double-edged sword. On the other hand, we have to admit that the education for the public is still not enough, and more public engagement activities are needed.
Contact Us
Room 413,Biology lab center, Zijingang Campus
Zhejiang University, YuHangTang Road NO.866
Hangzhou, China
iGEM ZJU-China 2016 Team