Excellence in another area
Even though our team has already decided to invest a lot of time and effort in the field of Education, we felt the need to go beyond simple one-time events and happenings and actually figure out a meaningful way through which we could bring an actual change in the field of education in Greece.
This is the reason that we decided to launch an effort to impel national and local bodies to consider the place of Synthetic Biology in school books, school activities and its absence from any sort of extracurricular programme.
Our plan of action
Approaching the Governor of the region of Crete
After conferring with lawyers and legislative secretaries*, we devised a three-part strategy to entice the powers that be. We decided to contact the governor of the Region of Crete, and specifically the regional vice governors for Education (Mrs Koutentaki), Environment (Mr Xilouris), and Social Security (Mr Vamvakas), to discuss the function of synthetic biology on a regional level. We drafted an 8 page document titled: “A set of proposals to familiarise the world with synthetic biology and new generation vaccines, to promote synthetic biology in the school environment and to mobilise society on ecological issues”
Planning the next step: Contacting the Minister of Education
Receiving feedback on such a draft can be of high value, especially when planning to implement such information in a draft addressed to the nation’s Minister of Education.
What follows is the word to word translation that we’ve prepared for the Minister, Mrs Niki Kerameos:
Paving the way for future methods of education
As you may have read in our letter, our last and most important part of our approach involved creating a mock chapter about Synthetic Biology so as to demonstrate the possible ways through which it can be implemented in the school environment. Before drafting the chapter, we decided to pay a visit to Dr Manolis Stratakis who used to be a member of the committee responsible for reviewing certain high school biology textbooks. Through our meeting we got to know the proper way with which a chapter is constructed and reviewed and we gained valuable insight on how to draft our own textbook chapter. Keeping true to what Dr. Stratakis had to say, we managed to create a chapter about synthetic biology that follows all guidelines, parameters and structures of our 3rd year biology textbook.
Translating the entire chapter can be a very arduous task, yet you can find said file in Greek at the end of this section . Our chapter revolves around a total of 5 key points:
-What is synthetic biology?
-What can synthetic biology do?
-What is the difference between synthetic biology and genome editing?
-What are the Social and Ethical implications of synthetic biology?
-The history of synthetic biology and important scientists in the field.
Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities, such as enzymes, genetic circuits and cells, or the redesign of existing biological systems. Common goals of synthetic biology projects are to engineer organisms to produce a substance, such as a drug or a fuel, or to acquire a new ability, such as sensing something in the environment. Synthetic biology and genetic engineering do not involve the same techniques but share common goals. However, the two terms are not identical. The first synthetic bacterial genome was completed in 2008 with the synthesis of the Mycoplasm genitalium genome, and in 2017, another group of scientists partially synthesized the genome of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.In 2010, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) announced the first the world's first synthetic life form; the single-celled organism is based on a single cell but at its core is a wholly synthetic organism that is the basis of an existing bacterium genome constructed in the laboratory.
Our takeaway message
It is our firm belief that through this threefold approach we gave a lot of food for thought to the powers that be in Greece, a nation infamous for the slow bureaucratic manner through which things(including school textbooks) can change. We are of the opinion that we applied a lot of pressure on a regional and national level by impelling specific governing bodies to investigate the role of synthetic biology. Last but not least we had the chance to converse with some of the behind-the-scenes people that carry upon their shoulders difficult tasks regarding our society such as day to day decisions about education(in the regional government offices) as well as decisions that have affected and will continue to affect thousands of greek students every year(such as reviewing a textbook).
We remain fairly optimistic that through our threefold approach we managed to initiate a long journey into the deep-end of the field of education that will ultimately result in synthetic biology receiving the place it deserves in schools and in students’ hearts.
Why our work is not just about Education?
It is not difficult for one to notice that our work in this section could be classified as part of our educational strategy. That is not the case though.
Our primary goal was to motivate the powers that be in such a way that synthetic biology finally has the role it deserves in our society. As one may easily understand, the earlier such an inclusion of the field commences the easier the acceptance of it will become. This is the reason that we aimed to ameliorate its position, primarily, in schools and afterwards in the entirety of the society.
Our Education strategy had as its goal to directly educate groups of people whereas in this set of actions, we tried to approach the problem on a national level. Instead of visiting a few schools near us we made contact with our superiors so as to draft a new, more appropriate policy and create new societal structures to support our cause.
In contrast with our other strategy that aimed directly at the students, we contacted the Vice-Governors of the region of Crete and the Minister of Education of Greece in an effort to set the appropriate "substrate" upon which any governing body or organisation can later expand.
In a way, we had our eyes set beyond what one team of 15 people could achieve in just a year and tried to pave the way for all future iGEM teams of Greece to implement their future strategies in a much more hospitable environment.
In a few words, what we aimed to do is bring a national change of laws and policy when it comes to the role of synthetic biology in schools and beyond instead of simply organising isolated events that, by default, could have a less extensive impact on the society as a whole.
*In Greece, the responsibility of drafting a law falls upon the shoulders of special committees that are primarily comprised of members of the Greek Parliament.