Science communication within the scientific community is critical for promoting scientific research and allowing others to benefit from others' efforts. As a result, scientific communication in the form of sharing ideas, resources, research, and other information is critical, and can be facilitated by forums, activities and organizations who are willing to contribute in broadcasting synthetic biology to both scientists and nonscientists! When it comes to our communication and public activities, we are extremely proud of all of our achievements, even if some of the things we were planning didn’t come out the way we anticipated due to the pandemic and the fact that we were under lockdown for over six months.
Don’t forget to check our Education section to see even more about the Human Practices activities we have accomplished during 2021.
Scientific Society of Hellenic Medical Students Congress (ΕΣΦΙΕ)
Our team, along with other Greek iGEM teams, participated in a round table discussion at the 27th Scientific Society of Hellenic Medical Students Congress, an online event hosted by the medical school of Patra. Our roundtable discussed "One Health and the Applications of Synthetic Biology that Contribute to One Health," and our team's presentation focused mostly on "Implications of Synthetic Biology on Therapeutics and the Future Establishment of One Health."
Our aim was to give the synopsis of how several accomplishments of synthetic biology have had a determinative role in the outcome of past pandemics caused by zoonoses. Moreover, we mentioned a few implementations of synthetic biology that have currently developed specifically for the emerging needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last but not least we elaborated on how synthetic biology could be vital for achieving the sustainable development goals for 2030
set by WHO. Creating this presentation intrigued us to dive further into the history of Synthetic Biology, find out how it was influenced by major challenges of public health and vice versa. Other than that, this congress was a great opportunity to collaborate with other Greek iGEM teams and exchange ideas on such an important topic as One Health.
Being part of a round table rather than making an open announcement had the merit of developing a more concrete and deep understanding of the topic as we got the chance to hear what other speakers had to add to the conversation on One Health. Of course our participation in this round table was a great excuse for us to attend the rest of the 3-day congress, where incredible speeches were given, some of them on the COVID-19 pandemic which really helped us keep up with the latest at the time information about the epidemiology, diagnosis and treatments options for COVID-19.
Project presentation and informational kiosk at the University of Crete
As the beginning of the new school year was approaching and lectures were about to be in person again we through that having all the students back to campus would be a wonderful opportunity to interact with them, talk them through our project, get some feedback, introducing iGEM competition to whomever was unaware of and may be interested to join the team next year! So during freshman week as one of our last Human Practices events, we set up our iGEM Crete kiosk where we welcomed students from every department of our University who shared a common passion for Synthetic Biology.
Our plan was to open a conversation about edible vaccines to have a rough estimation of what the percentage of the students had heard of edible vaccines or even had studied them during a course at university. We were surprised to hear a good deal of students saying they have heard about edible vaccines for the first time from our interviews on the news we have given a few months back. On the contrary, we were slightly disappointed to find out that except for the biology students, edible vaccines were not in the curriculum of any other department. Hopefully, that was not the case for synthetic biology in general and we got to meet a few quite enthusiastic students that were willing to give us their feedback on our project and actually showed interest to join the team for next year’s competition.
Interacting with other university students and having them comment on our project with a fresh and critical point of view was a valuable experience for us at this time when the day of the final presentation slowly approached.
In spring we were given the opportunity to attend an interview session by MolecularCloud. MolecularCloud is a non-profit science communication platform, powered by GenScript. They reached us for an interview via our instagram account and, wanting to spread the word to a larger audience, we immediately agreed.
Our interview took place on July 7th and was hosted by Josemary Medrano. We made a brief description of our project vaccinATEd, how edible vaccines work and we analyzed our plan on raising awareness around edible vaccines during our Human Practices activity programm. The interview format helped us to have a more direct conversation plus a Q&A format allows people who are gonna watch the recorded video to better understand the science behind the immunization process we are using to induce antibody production against the SARS-CoV-2. You can watch our full interview on YouTube or you can click the link .
The iGEM Crete Blog
It is a well known fact that not all people who are interested in biology possess the sufficient amount of knowledge or time to invest into comprehending difficult concepts. Some other times, it is extremely difficult for people newly introduced to the field to find the appropriate “place to begin from”. This is the reason that we decided to create a blog section in our team’s website and update it whenever we had the opportunity to. Our most popular articles to this day are the two interviews about the lives, hopes and inspirations of our PIs. This fact made it very clear that people are extremely delighted to get to know the people behind science before embarking on exploring their accomplishments.
Presentation at the 5th High School of Heraklion
As a team we felt the need to expand upon our theoretical education strategy and apply part of our methodology to an actual school environment. For us, such an initiative was a paramount addition to our general approach towards ameliorating the role of synthetic biology in schools. Read more about our actions here .
2nd Career Month web conference talk- hosted by the Greek Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation
On the 6th of September we received an invitation on behalf of the Union of Students of Pharmacy Greece to participate in their 2nd Career Month. Their plan of action is to contribute to vocational guidance pharmacy graduates and everyone else interested in the thematology! The conference speeches are distinguished in three categories: Research & Development, Quality Control and Pharmacovigilance. The web conference is scheduled for every weekend in November (6-7/11, 13-14/11, 20-21/11). Our talk is actually set for the 7th, just a mere few hours before our judging session!
Our speech about edible vaccines is categorised as a part of the R&D set of proposals and, of course, we are looking forward to analysing the stages of development of such a vaccination method and inspire pharmaceutical students to further inquire on such a field!
DEBATE around Genetically Modified Organisms
Taking advantage of our involvement around food engineering, we needed to persuade people that GMOs are a powerful tool in our arsenal. Despite the fact that our concept was not a GMO, we saw a potential to merge those two. Our human practices team had the wonderful idea of organizing a live discussion regarding genetically modified organisms. We felt it was more necessary to first persuade the local community rather than directly broaden our target group and, as a result, we chose to conduct it in Greek (the local language) and broadcast it live on YouTube.
We started by introducing ourselves to the audience and then described to them briefly what was the reason and the purpose of the event. Evagoras, Our Head of Human Practices followed the introduction with a very insightful presentation about what we consider natural, what are genes, selective breeding and GMOs. His objective was to enlighten people and show them a different perspective of the things we consider without second thoughts around us natural and not human-made. Often our opinion on this matter is affected deeply by marketing and advertising scams. Then our Head of Wet lab made his presentation. A very straightforward presentation of our project edible vaccines, as simple as possible for our not scientific audience, and the reasons that it is not a GMO. The presentation was excellent and this way we managed to show what GMOs are and why our project is not in that category simultaneously.
Afterwards, we gave a few minutes to our audience for potential questions and we started the conversation. Evagoras was coordinating the talk between two great individuals, Marianna Stagaki and Prodromos Papadopoulos. Biology students of our university had the courtesy to help us with the event. With our Head of Human Practices they studied a great deal of bibliography to form their own opinion on the subject.
We tried to cover every perspective of the matter equally. We firstly talked about the already existing products in the market that are GMOs and why they were created. Then we covered all the concerns and fears of activists like Greenpeace about GMOs. Following that was the conversation from the perspective of the big international companies that create GMO products and specific plant protection products.
We also brought to the spotlight the way the European Union managed the subject and how they were very cautious in the past seeing the chaos and fear that GMOs cause to the public. Near the end of the event we had the chance to ask a lot of the questions that came up during the conversation to our P.I. Mr. Sarris Panagiotis. He is very experienced in this matter and the way the European Union is testing these products. He assured us that to authorise a GMO product with the purpose of getting it in the market is a very difficult assignment. They had a very interesting conversation with our Head of Human Practices about organic foods as well. As the Head of Human Practices said “organic foods are the opposite side of the same coin as GMOs” meaning that marketing and advertising scams are overselling them as they underselling GMOs. Organic foods have a lot to offer but overselling them as the solutions to world hunger and enhancement of health is wrong. We have no evidence yet that organic foods are boosting our health except from the increase of some trace elements without any clinical significance. Also there are a lot of studies showing that to cultivate the same amount of organic foods as the conventional foods you need 25-50% more space. Thus it would create a huge problem of starvation. The conclusion we had at our event was that GMOs are a great biological technology. All revolutionary technologies can be used for the common good but they end up getting exploited by big corporate organisations for profit. Therefore the technology of GMOs has proven until now that is good and worthy of our attention but the way we are using it may have caused political and social economical concerns.
Digital Art Gallery
An exhibition thoughtfully crafted by the unlimited imagination of young children! As a team we prioritized making synthetic biology more accessible to the non-scientific community and in return, letting the needs of a modern society be the guideline for the next achievements of synthetic biology. Organizing educational activities in several Greek cities was a great pleasure for us this year, as we got the chance to talk to children about bacteria and the microcosm and as a result not only did we get a great sense of fulfillment but also, we extracted an incredible collection of the works of art displayed in this exhibition. The little artists poured all of their energy into these works to depict their interpretation of what bacteria look like. We hope you enjoy the exhibition !
Since our Project for iGEM 2021 was extremely relevant to the current affairs, and the idea of a vaccine that is edible is at the very least intriguing, added to the fact that our team is the first ever undergraduate team from Crete to partake in the competition, it is no wonder that our team and our project were thrust into the spotlight very quickly.
After revealing our project to the world and reaching out to local media, many more followed up. As a result, we ended up featuring in the front pages of the most important Greek online tabloids.
We also had the chance to converse with Mr.Konstantinidis, one of the journalists in “Social Report”, a WebTV Series.
More importantly we also had the chance to appear on nationwide television and talk about our project on two different occasions.
Headline reads: The Greek undergrads that are preparing an edible vaccine against coronavirus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_VHhRJ_ojc
Our team’s appearance in the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation aka ERT (ΕΡΤ) that is the state-owned public radio and television broadcaster for Greece.
Moreover we have been informed by Forbes Greece that we will be included in this year’s 30 Under 30 list, a list that in our country is traditionally published all throughout November. In addition to that, a lengthy appearance in the only biology/environment related television programme of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) is currently underway and is expected to air in late-November.
It is not a secret that in Greece, our Project was found in the limelight for quite a few days since its announcement. As a result when one searches the words “βρώσιμο εμβόλιο igem”,(edible vaccine igem) they receive over 2700 hits!
To the best of our knowledge, over 35 websites, 3 newspapers, 2 nationwide channels, 2 radio stations and one WebTV channel have reported on our project! We hope that this publicity, combined with our science communication, will help people better grasp both the benefits of GMOs and the potential use of synthetic biology in addressing current and future critical challenges.