Team:CHINA-FAFU/Human Practices/IHP

Integrated Human Practice


Climate change, which is already deeply affecting the survival of life, is closely linked to the massive carbon emissions caused by mankind's excessive use of fossil energy. The Paris Agreement proposes to limit global warming to within the first 2°C above industrialized levels and to strive to keep it within 1.5°C. When warming exceeds 1.5°C, 13% of the land area will be affected, 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates will become extinct, and this number will double with a 2°C rise[1]. The risk of flooding for more than 70% of the global population will even rise by 500% directly when the temperature rises more than 4 degrees[2]. It's time to find a clean energy source instead of fossil energy! Among clean energy sources, biomass energy is increasingly used, accounting for 86% of renewable energy consumption in the European Union in 2019[3], while the United States is replacing 30% of its oil use by 2035 according to plans[4]. Microalgae, as the raw material for the latest generation of biomass energy, has a pivotal role in combating climate change. Moreover, in the Paris Agreement, BECCS in carbon neutral CCUS is the killer app in the whole plan, and in the IEA sustainability scenario, carbon capture in CCUS Phase III (2050-2070) increases 85% compared to the previous phase, 45% of which comes from BECCS.
Microalgae play an extremely important role in the plan as one of the core members to achieve BECCS. Microalgae fix about 1/5 of the world's CO2 through powerful photosynthesis, equivalent to the contribution of an entire tropical rainforest. The biggest bottleneck in using microalgae for carbon sequestration and biodiesel production is the high cost of cultivation, which accounts for more than 80% of the total cost.
The project that our team has done is to use synthetic biology and molecular biology to improve the oil content, photosynthetic efficiency, biomass and rock algae flavin content of microalgae, which has a positive effect on reducing the cost of microalgae biodiesel. At the same time, we made appropriate adjustments to the project direction through interviews with industry experts, dialogues with stakeholders, questionnaires, and reshaping public conversations to move our project in a better and more refined direction that meets the needs of all parties.
In short, we have completed a closed-loop cycle of "demand" and "feedback" through the three sections of design, modeling and human practice to ensure that our projects are truly beneficial to the development of the human world.

Talk with professors

At the beginning of the project, we were fortunate to have a talk with professors in related fields to discuss the feasibility, application prospects, and value of the project. Of course, during the project process, we encountered some problems and received help and support from the professors.

Prof. Ren Sen Zeng
Prof. Ren-Sen Zeng is the Dean of College of Agriculture, Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, the Director of Institute of Crop Resistance and Chemical Ecology, the President of International Allelopathy Society, the President of Overseas Chinese Entomologists Association, the Director of International Society of Chemical Ecology, and the Secretary General of Asian Allelopathy Society. He is an expert in the field of water chemical ecology mechanism and its signal transduction pathway, and is also the director of International Allelopathy Society, the chairman of Overseas Chinese Entomologists Association, the director of International Society of Chemical Ecology, and the secretary general of Asian Allelopathy Society.
He told us that synthetic biology is about the study of metabolic pathways, so we need to understand the metabolic pathways in microalgae, and what changes in the metabolic pathways in the cell body are needed to be explored if we want to affect its lipid synthesis at the metabolic level. At the same time. He thinks we can try to
boost the lipid content of microalgae at several levels. "As long as the sum of polysaccharide, protein and lipid content goes up, the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by Phaeodactylum tricornutum will increase, and the carbon sequestration effect will naturally increase," he said.
Considering that the experimental material is a microorganism, Prof. Zeng Ren Sen believes that it is very plastic because the growth and metabolism of microorganisms are easily influenced by the outside world, so we can consider changing the external conditions to influence its metabolism, either by nutrient composition or by changing the temperature, pH, oxygen supply, etc. In other words, by artificially interfering with the external environment to stimulate the cells of Fucus triangularis, we can enhance its ability to synthesize lipids and sequester carbon.

How does it impact the project?
1. The team was able to understand the lipid synthesis pathway and carbon sequestration method of Phaeodactylum tricornutum at the metabolic level.
2. Guided the team to find the "optimal solution" by adding a variety of exogenous substances that affect the growth and metabolism of Phaeodactylum tricornutum, which is one of the reasons why we chose to use AsA.

Prof. Ying Miao
Prof. Ying Miao is a DFG Distinguished Young Recipient of German Natural Science Foundation, a leading talent of Fujian University and a talent of Fujian "Hundred People Plan", a director of Chinese Society of Plant Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology, a vice president of Fujian Cell Biology Society, and a director of Fujian Key Laboratory of Plant Functional Biology and Green Agriculture. She is an expert in the molecular cell biology of plant growth and development, senescence and death, transcription and epigenetic regulation mechanism.
She told us that the process of carbon fixation in microalgae must go through chloroplast sites, and if the amount of carbon fixation increases, it means that the amount of CO2 absorbed in the chloroplast dark reaction increases; correspondingly, as long as there is enough light, then the intensity of the light reaction will also increase accordingly, i.e. the overall photosynthetic intensity increases. Therefore we could try to measure FV/FM, which confirmed that our previous idea was correct and showed that this direction of the experimental design was feasible. Prof. Ying Miao expressed his approval when he knew that we did perform photosynthetic efficiency measurements before the interview.
"One gene corresponds to one or more functions," she said. As an expert in gene signaling, she thought that since we were doing research in the field of synthetic biology, we could look at the gene level to find ways. She suggested that we could look for genes related to lipid synthesis in Phaeodactylum tricornutum, and if it is a cluster of genes, we could try to turn on the "rate-limiting genes" in it, which would increase the overall efficiency of synthesis.
Of course, she also educated us on experimental safety and ethics. She believes that all research done by human beings has different goals in different fields, but the ultimate goal is for a better life of human beings, which of course includes the protection of the earth and the environment on which human beings live.
For us researchers who are new to the field of scientific research, we should set up the correct values of scientific research and should not take some unethical or even illegal means in order to obtain scientific results that are beneficial to us. At the same time, we should also actively use the opportunity of human practice in the competition to spread scientific ideas to the general public, especially since genetic modification is a hot topic that we are working on at the moment. For our researchers, they should know how to apply any scientific technology and not go to extremes; for the public, they should be helped to establish scientific knowledge about transgenic and synthetic biology and eliminate cognitive misconceptions.

How does it impact the project?
1. ensured that the determination of the FV/FM index is positive for the team's overall project.
2. prompted us to look for lipid synthesis-related genes, which also has important implications for our subsequent transgenic engineering.
3. Adding the popular science of synthetic biology and transgenics to public education, so that the public can get closer to and understand these technologies, dispel misconceptions, and guide them to look at these technologies objectively whether they are for or against.

Prof. Qin Yuan
Prof. Qin Yuan, Dean of School of Life Sciences, Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, Executive Vice President of Strait Joint Research Institute, Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, recipient of "National Excellent Youth Science Fund", recipient of "Newton Senior Scholar Fund" of Sino-British Talent Program, Fujian Province "She is an expert in the field of molecular mechanism of plant development and molecular regulation of plant adversity development.
She said that since our goal is to improve the lipid content and carbon sequestration of Phaeodactylum tricornutum, we should know when it has the maximum biomass and maximum lipid content. If the number of cells in the overall culture is the highest and the individual cells have the maximum lipid content, the overall synthesis of lipid and carbon sequestration is the highest. However, this is not always the case, and it is possible that the number of days required to have maximum oil content and the number of days required to have maximum biomass are not the same, so it is not just one or the other that counts in terms of economic efficiency. She suggested that we first look for the maximum number of days for economic efficiency under various conditions through modeling calculations to find out if the idea is feasible, and then go through the experiment to verify it.
"If you want to reduce the cost, you need to calculate the actual cost of biodiesel production in the plant and compare it with the cost in the lab to see if your result is really a reduction in production cost," she said. Here Prof. Qin Yuan told us that we need to combine the experimental theory with practice, which we had not considered before, and her words woke us up.
At the same time, she suggested that we should include a chapter on transgenics and synthetic biology in our public education books, so that the public can understand these cutting-edge technologies more closely and in layman's terms, rather than no scientific guesses, which is in line with what Prof. Ying Miao said.

How does it impact the project?
1.We calculate the maximum biomass and maximum oil content days of Phaeodactylum tricornutum by modeling and derive the optimal solution, while the subsequent experiments verify this result.
2.We applied the modeling to calculate the plant cost and laboratory cost of biodiesel production to do a comparative analysis, thus proving that our project is really meaningful.

Prof. Chao Zhao
Prof. Chao Zhao is a professor and doctoral supervisor of Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, deputy director of the Engineering Research Center of the Ministry of Education for Marine Food Processing and Nutritional Health of Fujian and Taiwan, a "Jinshan Scholar" and an outstanding young researcher of the university. He is a visiting associate researcher at the Department of Chemistry of the University of California, Davis, and a part-time researcher at the Institute of Chinese Medicine of the University of Macau. He is also the director of Microbial Biotechnology Branch of Chinese Society of Agricultural Biotechnology, member of Marine Biological Resources Committee of Chinese Society of Oceanography, member of Youth Committee of Agronomy Branch of Chinese Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, expert of National Key Research and Development Program, correspondence reviewer of National Natural Science Foundation of China, correspondence reviewer of National Council for Scientific and Technological Research of Chile, member of National Standardization Working Group of Tool Enzymes, member of Microbial Research Institute of Fujian Province. He is a member of the working group, secretary-general of the Microbiome and Probiotics Professional Committee of Fujian Microbiology Society, director of Fujian Health Engineering Society, science and technology expert of Fujian Province, and an expert in algal sugar chemistry and molecular nutrition research.
In his opinion, iGEM as an international competition, the way of communication with the public should be "international". Especially at the questionnaire level. At the time of collecting the questionnaire, our questionnaires were only sent to the domestic population and were focused on the youth group, which did not fit the concept of "public" and was not enough to form a convincing result. He suggested that we could send the questionnaire abroad and that we need to expand the age distribution of the audience, and he also talked about the comparative cost. If there is no data on the cost of producing biodiesel in the plant, there is no comparison of the laboratory data, and there is no cost reduction to speak of. This is consistent with what Professor Qin Yuan said.
In addition, he told us that microalgae can be used not only as a raw material for biodiesel production, but also to try to enhance its nutrient content. "Now the research on microalgae nutrition at home and abroad is mainly on Spirulina and Chlorella, and there are less reports on Phaeodactylum tricornutum, you can try it, especially when there are DHA, EPA, fucoxanthin and phycocyanin in microalgae, the metabolism of these organic substances are all influenced by each other" he said. So we told him that when Mr. Xie Jinjian, CEO of Fujian Shenliu Group, said a similar idea during our visit, he was delighted and said it was a feasible route.
In addition, he also expressed his insights on some practical forms, such as the need to use popular language when communicating with the public, the need to present in a novel way, and the need not to describe in too much details of some experimental processes.

How does it impact the project?
1. We put out questionnaires to foreign countries and finally received a total of 620 questionnaires from 7 countries and regions, which can form more convincing results than before.
2. Further confirming the significance of our idea to increase the content of fucoxanthin.
3. Improve the form of conducting social practice, so that the public is more willing to approach us, and easier to understand what we want to say, so that we can listen to them more easily, and feed more meaningful results into the experimental design.

Prof. Haifeng Lian
Prof. Haifeng Lian is a professor of statistics in the School of Computer and Information Science, Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, and holds a PhD in Science from Xiamen University. He is mainly engaged in statistical modeling and data analysis, machine learning and pattern recognition, ecological and environmental statistics, knowledge graphs, and Lie algebra. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of California, Santa Cruz (2012.3-2012.9) and the University of Idaho (2019.8-2020.7). He chaired and completed one project of Natural Foundation of Fujian Province and vice-chaired and completed one project of National Natural Foundation of China. He has published more than 20 academic papers in the Journal of algebra, Journal of Mathematic Physics, Science China Mathematics and other domestic and international journals.
After being informed of the topic and content of our questionnaire research, Prof. Haifeng Lian gave us a lot of guidance.
I. Problems
Prof. Haifeng Lien mainly raised several important issues, such as the questionnaire content is not well targeted to the public, respondents who do not know about transgenic microalgae or bioenergy are not able to answer more in-depth questions when they receive our questionnaire, and the conclusions submitted by these respondents about the attitudes of transgenic microalgae and biodiesel are not meaningful for analysis.
Second, the question options in some of the questionnaires were too subjective. For example, in the question of age, the interval between 11-17 years old and 18-28 years old is only 7 years, which is not objective, and in the question of urban development, our intention is to understand the development of the user's city, but we ignore the subjective nature of the user's answers, and different users may have very different views on the development of the same city.
II. Improvement methods
After pointing out our problems, Professor Lian Haifeng also gave many suggestions for improvement. For the problem that the respondents were not targeted, he guided us to set two sets of questions at the beginning, first using one question to divide users into two simple categories (know about microalgae/don't know about microalgae), and then using jumping questions to make different respondents answer different questions.
In the setting of options, he suggested that we should adopt the most widely used international stratification in order to make our questionnaire more referable. For some inappropriate wordings of the questionnaire, he suggested the contradictions to us from the respondents' point of view, and vividly guided us to find the ambiguities of language expressions.

How does it impact the project?
After the interview with Prof. Lian Haifeng, we organized the questions he raised into a case, and after repeated deliberation and discussion, we finally got an improved questionnaire. Under the guidance of Prof. Lian Haifeng, our questionnaire was optimized as follows compared to the previous one.

1、Enhance the logic of the questionnaire
The modified questionnaire is more logical between questions, we set a jump question and two sets of questionnaire questions for different challenge questions, through the challenge questions will be divided into two different types of respondents, so that the respondents can feel the continuity and rigor of the questions when answering the questions, and more scientifically guide the respondents to answer the questions according to their real situation.
2、Enhance the objectivity of the questionnaire
In social surveys, some survey respondents will tend to make socially desirable answers out of the psychological impact of showing a good personal image and the desire to be recognized by society, therefore, too subjective questionnaires will make the questionnaire less reliable. Therefore, after accepting the suggestion of Prof. Lian Haifeng, we improved the questions involving subjective answers, such as deleting the question "How is the development of your city" and asking the respondents about their resident cities instead, so as to avoid problems caused by the respondents' subjective assumptions.
After the optimization of the questionnaire, we conducted a test and analysis of the questionnaire data collected in the pre-survey, and then fine-tuned the content of the questionnaire according to the data, and finally launched the questionnaire to the public. Here, we would like to thank Professor Lian Haifeng for his guidance and support to our questionnaire research work!

Dialogue with Stakeholders

If the project is only at the experimental level and not put into practical production application, then our project cannot really do anything to improve the climate environment. In order to understand the views and needs at the public level, we communicate with Fujian Shenliu Group and talk to community members to understand from them what exactly is needed by the society, and adjust the direction of the experimental design and education section in time to ensure that the overall practical content of the project is meaningful to the society.

Meeting with Mr. Xie Jinjian, CEO of Fujian Shenliu Group, China
In early April this year, we contacted Mr. Xie Jinjian, CEO of Fujian Shenliu Group, and went to the company after getting approval from the school. Fujian Shenliu Group is a GMP certified health food company in China, and is a technology-based industrial company specializing in spirulina farming, research and development, production and sales integration. During the visit Xie Jinjian expressed his interest in our project, and he thought it was very meaningful for us to carry out such a project in today's severe climate change situation. "The processing of oil produced by microalgae into biodiesel is very meaningful to improve environmental pollution, and the process fixes more carbon dioxide, so to speak, which helps a lot to improve the environment", he said with a smile.
He gave his unique insight as an entrepreneur. At first we indicated that if the technology is cumbersome and the equipment is demanding whether it will affect the motivation of the company to produce. He thinks that as long as the net profit is substantial, there is no need to worry about this problem in general, because the net profit is based on the "technical complexity" and "high equipment requirements", which means that as long as the net profit is objective, then these technical problems can be overcome.

And as the general manager of a nutritional health product company, he thought we could try to change the nutrient content of the microalgae. He told us, "If you can boost the nutrient content in it, then it's more versatile, more byproducts, and profits go up." This was a great inspiration to us — we could not only "increase the oil content" to reduce the production cost, but also increase the content of microalgae by-products to increase its value. In a later interview with Professor Chao Zhao, he gave similar advice. Since Phaeodactylum tricornutum have the advantages of fast growth, easy cultivation, and easy artificial control in the production of fucoxanthin compared to other microalgaes[6], we focused on lithophanin.
Mr. Jinjian Xie expressed interest in our project, so our team entered into a technical partnership with the company, hoping to promote each other for mutual benefit in the future.

How does it impact the project?
1. To dispel the problem that "technical and equipment problems may lead to low production motivation".
2. To investigate how to improve the content of fucoxanthin, and to provide reference for the production and application of Phaeodactylum tricornutum.

Click on our Entrepreneurship page to learn more.

Dialogue with the community
It is not enough to just talk to professionals, we also need to hear the views and opinions of the public. Although we already had a questionnaire, we preferred to talk to the public face-to-face and hear some perspectives beyond the content of the questionnaire1. We started an online discussion on social media platforms. At first we thought this might not work well and were worried that not many people would participate. However, the team members actively promoted it, and in the end, 16 people attended the meeting. The topic of the discussion was "Views on microalgae carbon sequestration and biodiesel production". During this open exchange, we learned that the public was generally supportive of the project. Here are some of their questions and concerns.

1. Do microalgae sequester a lot of carbon? If they sequester very little carbon, then increasing the amount of carbon sequestered is just a drop in the bucket, but if it is a lot of carbon sequestered, then I am very supportive of your project!
2. What is the difference between the use of biodiesel and fossil fuels?
3. I hope it is very safe.
4. If it is cheap and practical then I will definitely use it, but of course if it performs better than fossil fuels, so much the better!
5. I wonder if it will cost you a lot to increase the amount of carbon sequestration? Through this 40-minute conversation, we generally understand that the public's concern about the project is safety and feasibility, i.e. whether our project can improve the climate and whether the biodiesel produced will be more safe and reliable.

How does it impact the project?
1. Expand public education on microalgae carbon sequestration and biomass energy.
2. Explore ways to further enhance the carbon sequestration and oil content of microalgae.

Integration of Modeling, Human Practice and Experimentation

1. Questionnaire.
A questionnaire was released in order to gain a larger understanding of public perceptions and opinions on the use of transgenic microalgae for the development of new energy sources and and other applications. After about 60 days of collection, we obtained 620 questionnaires from 7 countries and regions. The questionnaire covered "What is your attitude towards biodiesel? ” “What do you think the use of bio-energy can bring changes to the world development", "What do you think about the safety of genetic modification", "Would you choose microalgae that are rich in polysaccharides, proteins and unsaturated fatty acids to enhance your health?" The questions are relevant to our project.

How do we conduct questionnaire research analysis?
(1) Creating a questionnaire In order to explore the public's knowledge and demand for new energy sources developed by genetically modified microalgae, we collected user data through an online questionnaire for analysis. Before creating the questionnaire, the modeling team developed the questionnaire framework according to the research purpose, and the HP team was responsible for collecting information about the research content and designing the corresponding questions so that the questionnaire was arranged in a strong logical order and in line with the thinking process of the respondents.
(2) Pre-survey
After making the preliminary version of the questionnaire content, the human practice group put the questionnaire to the society for pre-survey and collected back 300 copies of the questionnaire. Based on the data of the pre-survey questionnaire, the modeling group checked the questionnaire, improved the unreasonable questions and gave the final questionnaire content.
Meanwhile, in response to the questionnaire data collected by the HP group during the pre-survey, the modeling group analyzed and found that the questionnaire collection object was too single and the user classification trend was not obvious. The modeling group promptly reflected the problem to the HP group and gave some precautions in collecting the questionnaire, which provided suggestions for the human practice group to formally start the questionnaire research.
(3) Formal survey
The human practice group collected 620 valid questionnaires from 7 countries through a 60-day-long questionnaire survey, which was handed over to the modeling group to conduct a deep questionnaire analysis on the recovered questionnaires, establish a user demand model based on CRITIC weighting method, and dig deeper into the value of potential users of microalgae and their personalized characteristics.
Throughout the questionnaire production-distribution-recovery-analysis-summary, the HP group provided valuable social survey data for modeling, and the modeling group was able to explore the nature of public consumption demand for GM microalgae products from the data.
2. Exploring the growth trend of microalgae
The modeling group fitted the growth curve of microalgae by logistic model based on the density data measured by the experimental group under different experimental environments, and calculated the maximum growth rate of microalgae and its corresponding time and maximum production, so as to give certain directions for the experimental group in the selection of the amount of AsA addition and the number of days of microalgae cultivation.
3. Exploring the cost of producing microalgae in the factory
Before the modeling group started, the human practice group investigated the costs consumed by the factory for its production of microalgae, including more than ten cost estimates such as depreciation of fixed assets, labor costs, physical consumption, and combustion consumption, and fed the data to the modeling group. Meanwhile, the experimental group provided the modeling group with data on the density of microalgae in different environments through multiple culture environments in the laboratory setting.
After collecting the data provided by the human practice group and the experimental group, the modeling group established a preliminary target planning model to predict the optimal cultivation time and production profit of microalgae in the plant environment. At this time, we were contacted by the HP group and had an in-depth communication with Prof. xx. We were inspired by the guidance given by the professor to optimize the basic model and explore the change curve of cost and profit at different additive levels to provide suggestions for the future plant to be able in getting more profit when producing transgenic microalgae.

4. Site selection data collection in Chinese provinces
After exploring the cost optimization of microalgae factory, the modeling group became interested in the optimal site selection if microalgae factory. In this regard, the human practice group gave a lot of support. By linking up with the modeling group in many meetings online and offline, and after discussing and determining the data needed by the modeling group, the human practice group started another long data collection work. National Bureau of Statistics, Tax Bureau, Land Network... Facing the huge amount of data, HP group carefully compared the accuracy and timeliness of each data, and after repeatedly confirming with the modeling group whether the data was feasible, they crawled the relevant data through web crawlers to summarize a complete site-selection related data, and the modeling group analyzed the optimal site for the microalgae factory.
Click on our Questionnaire Analysis page to learn more.

Thanks to the sponsors:

Contact us: