Human Practices

Since our project already has an arts and cinematic arts relation by the very nature of E. coli producing music, we decided to further merge sciences and the arts. We produced a set of three related videos:

We first produced a video comprising a collection of man-on-the-street interviews of random people. We asked them various questions ranging from “What is genetic engineering?” to “What are the dangers and benefits of synthetic biology” to get a better grasp of how the average person not affiliated with biology research viewed these important ethics debates over manipulating life. We also included a few basic science questions to establish their biology-related background knowledge and asked a few fun questions, such as “What do you think bacteria say to each other?” and “What’s your opinion on singing bacteria?” We took advantage of this one on one scenario to discuss their responses and to educate them on issues when needed. We uploaded this video onto youtube(TM) and have mediated an online discussion of responses generated by random viewers across the world

Here are some of the more "memorable" interactions we observed:

What is E.Coli?

Ashley – Bacteria raw food,raw eggs ..makes u sick

Alex- Food borne illness. On TV in vegetables

Tony – may be a bacteria, in food..can make u realllly sick

What is a biobrick?

Ashley – a machine that is bricky

Jeremy – a part of life you can build on

Tony – A T G C

Fay Fay – when you are studying for biology and you are stuck, it’s a biobrick

What is synthetic biology?

Tony – artificial limbs, regenerative tissue

Jeremy – creating life

Fay Fay – Things are living better that are created and kept alive by humans, that sounds odd

Our second video is a music video, which shows the entire process of engineering bacteria, from the initial stages of planning and preparation of PCR, transformation, and finally video microscopy of our E. coli. Our goal here is to “humanize” scientists and science to encourage a better understanding of science while promoting the idea that everyone can do science. We want to eliminate the perception of science as incomprehensible and impossible for the average person to understand. The music video format both retains the viewers’ attention and adds entertainment value to a simple run-through of what our iGEM team and genetic engineering scientists around the world do in labs.

The final video is a combination mash-up of the previous videos. The video is an overview documentary which introduces our project, synthetic biology, and the ethics of genetic engineering in context with our music video and our man-on-the-street interviews. We also included animations of E. coli tumbling and rotation to provide visualizations.

We uploaded our videos to Youtube and generated interest through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit. We also submitted truncated versions of the final combination video to science blogs such as Gawker, Gizmodo, Popsci, Wired, etc. Through this method, we hoped to generate popular interest in both our project and synthetic biology by not only spreading awareness but also encouraging active debates in the comments section of our videos. This will allow a more personal and interactive element to our iGEM project and foster interest in synthetic biology and the related issues at hand.

In contrast to previous iGEM human practices projects, we incorporated man-on-the-street interviews. We also created a video series tied together by a larger video for viewers to be able to easily choose what topics they want to learn more about, which lends an interactive element. Additionally, we highly encouraged a debate in the comments section of our main video, and we have gotten a surprising number of well-thought out responses. To highlight a few:

“…synthetic biology is a tool that can abused or used for benefit, so it’s not really a question of whether synthetic biology is ethically. More like a question of whether what any individual is doing with synthetic biology ethical? At the moment, singing bacteria in particular doesn’t seem like it would cause any harm. :}” – illuminairi

“this is not what i learn in lecture or even in the labs that i have had at my university. i wish my school had an igem team. i really like that this group took the time to discuss some of the ethical issues surrounding the project they were working on. i think the only concern that i have would be spreading bacteria outside of the lab where people could contact it. but from the video they look like they are very safe!” – Meaghan Thomas

“Fascinating singing bacteria! Great work! Thanks for all the efforts to educate people to understand more about synthetic biology. Every technology could potentially be abused, but that can’t be the reason to stop developing and using it. The more people understand it, the better people may prevent abuses.” – jwa wang