In order to spread awareness and educate society on GMOs and their use, we chose to target people across all age groups. To accommodate each group in a suitable manner, we carried out different activities which were best adapted for each particular age group. We chose this approach as it was most appropriate for our project, as our production organism is GMO and could potentially end up in the food industry. Our choice to work with GMOs as a broad theme/perspective stemmed from the current EU regulations and the general public view on GMOs in the EU. Another motivation derives from the movement towards sustainability, which is promoted heavily by the UN in their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Below are listed the activities we have done to cover all age group audiences.

  • To children, drew and wrote a scientific book; it will be published soon
  • To teenagers at high school level, taught students about Synthetic biology and inspired their further interest
  • To young adults, discussion between different Universities, got a greater overview on how GMOs are treated in each respective country
  • To the general public, promoted our project about our bio-environmental idea and engineering technology on social media, GMOs discussion at Danish political festival “Folkemødet” and at the interactive platform Kialo for future use
  • To politicians, to discuss how to build a better legislative framework for GMO.
  • To us, received politicians points about GMO: considering the current legislative framework and the ongoing discussions of GMO implementation in the legislation we tried to understand the potential of this project and how stringent the regulations are for it to be adopted in daily life.


Children's Book

Our way of spreading awareness and educating children about GMOs was focused on introducing and presenting GMOs in a positive manner, as opposed to something they should be scared of, as they will likely experience GMOs as a more common thing in the future. We chose to introduce GMOs in the form of a book, as seeing something visually and being told a story is a simple, yet powerful, way to make an impression on young children. In order to avoid being overly technical, we used “magic” scissors as a symbol for current gene editing technologies such as CRISPR. Thereby allowing children to see gene editing as a physical thing that happens with touch of scissors.
An important message in the book is that we do not want GMOs to roam freely, there is a requirement for taking responsibility and for critical evaluation of the gene editing actions that are taken when utilized. Our reason for this emphasis stems from the general societal worry on GMOs especially within the EU, where we have very strict regulations when it comes to GMOs. We wanted a different perspective, that was not concerned with anything other than following responsible handling and being ethical in one's considerations.

As an additional activity, we included an “at home” DNA extraction experiment, where children themselves could try to work with science. All the remedies needed are common household materials, which makes it accessible for everyone to try.
Our book is currently in the process of being published in collaboration with Unge forskere (Young scientists), where it can reach a broad audience and hopefully inspire many young children to pursue a career in STEM and synthetic biology.

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High School Education

As a part of our education plan we went to a high school in Roskilde (Roskilde HTX), where we held a seminar with a workshop for 2 high school classes (approximately 45 students). These students already had basic knowledge within microbiology and therefore we designed our seminar to focus on How to build a BioBrick and what work we were doing in our project, PHEAST. With this we introduced basic work within synthetic biology and how BioBricks allows one to easier “mix-and-match” different biological parts, thereby minimizing the exclusivity in the world of synthetic biology. After our presentation, we hosted a workshop where the students themselves tried to construct their own fundamental expression cassettes, as we believe learning by doing is the best way to conceptualize new knowledge. The tasks to be answered increased in difficulty, finally ending up in a more abstract task where the students had to browse the iGEM registry for promoters and choose a promoter they found best for the given purpose. From this we had many interesting conversations and discussions with the students, which all actively participated in both the workshop and the presentation. After the workshop, we asked the students to answer a survey, where we got very positive feedback and it seemed that all students enjoyed it and learned new and interesting things about synthetic biology. We also sent a survey to the two teachers, who both gave us great feedback.

We see this experience with the high school students as an engineering cycle, as we designed and built our seminar and workshop, tested it on the students, and learned through both the feedback and our own experiences. Through the feedback from the teachers and the students, we were reassured that we had built a great toolbox for educating people with fundamental knowledge in microbiology. If we were to host this seminar and workshop again, we would be able to do so with great confidence as we learned how to meet the students at their level of knowledge and help them build knowledge of synthetic biology on top of the fundamental knowledge they already had.

Public Outreach

GMO Discussions

GMO discussions were a series of 2 online events organised by our team in July. The events were open for all iGEM teams, and aimed for sparking discussion on the GMO regulations topic among the fellow iGEMers. Whereas we did not want to stay within our academic bubble at first, it turned out to be great to get other iGEMers’ opinions on the subject matter. Moreover we got insights into GMO regulations outside the EU and other interesting new perspectives. On 10.07.2021 we had an online zoom meeting with a Mentimeter presentation (see the presentation here)where we were joined by the LMSU team from Moscow. It was a very fruitful discussion where we exchanged opinions on the three topics we chose and it was great to get the Russian perspective as that is not so much publicly debated. The public participation was very negative towards GMOs.
On 07.07.2021 we had our second iGEM GMO debate where members of the team from NU, Asana, Kazakhstan joined. We had an interesting conversation guided by our presentation and the respective topics we focussed on. They had interesting points of view and experiences to share from their home country. Although they said public opinion of GMOs is very negative, there is hardly any regulation and it does not seem as if farmers are much aware of whether they are growing GMOs or not. They said many of the agricultural products were already GMOs due to the necessity of applying them because the climate, mostly the droughts, does not allow conventional plants to grow as effectively. Despite the fact that much of their agricultural products are exported, they said that the country cannot feed itself at the moment. Thus compared to the European situation it is interesting to see how it plays out if you do not have the luxury and resources to allow a discussion and the negative public opinion to hold back technology. It has a high price which people in Kasachstan cannot pay. In terms of regulation they proposed a global labeling system and interestingly rejected the idea of global regulations on the basis of an argument that it would be a form of neocolonialism as these regulations are necessarily made and enforced by the dominant political powers.

Project Video

The project video is an efficient way to show our project in general, what we have done, and its impact. So we have been investing a lot of work and consulted a professional director and photographer. You can see the outcome below. For the presentation video, the filming has been finished, and now the editing is in progress.

The promotion video has been translated in 16 languages and uploaded in all the platforms. We did received really good feedback for it. Click below to see our promotion video.

We are in the final stages of editing our final presentation video and we cannot wait to share it with you! Although it was really tricky to remember all the lines for filming, we have done a great job and hope to impress the jury. We have explained all the techniques and experiments we designed and performed along with the results we obtained. The animations were made in such a way that is easy to understand by a wide range of audiences.

Social Media Promotion

Social media is a widely used global platform to increase publicity. We have been engaging actively with people on various platforms establishing communication and also keeping tabs on the project progress. Our posts on social media have been not only passing scientific information to our audiences but also bringing more people with interest to us. With more than 700 followers on Instagram and hundreds of connections on Linkedin and other platforms, we have quite a bit of an audience to reach out to.

Political Engagement

Sparking A Discussion

As we started our project we thought about how our system could be applied and envisioned small-scale fermentors around the world able to metabolize the potent greenhouse gas methane. In this process, we had shortly considered possible regulatory difficulties with a transgenic organism like ours. Going further and after talking to friends and family about this project, we realized that one of the major hurdles in its implementation may actually be a social one. As with many issues like climate change, the technological challenges are feasible whereas the biggest problems arise from socio-economic circumstances. Thus we were eager to engage ourselves in the ethical and political discussion about GMOs and their regulation in the EU. Our own background knowledge, further research about it, and personal conversations made us realize that the debate about GMOs is quite ideological for many people with a tendency to categorically reject them. Hence, we decided that the most important goal for our public engagement should be to try to facilitate a debate as open as possible. In this respect, we explicitly wanted to avoid a top-down discussion of us trying to “educate” the general public.
Folkemødet offered a good opportunity for us to reach ‘ordinary’ citizens outside the scientific community to discuss the dilemmas related to GMOs. Folkemødetis the biggest Danish political Festival airing each year in June gathering politicians, NGOs and companies to practice democratic debate. We applied to become a live event holder at Folkemødet. To make it happen, we needed to prepare for the public engagement.

By the end of April 2021 a studyon the status of new gene technologies was published by the European Commission. As stated in the main conclusion of the study: “Importantly, more effort should be made to inform and engage with the public on NGTs and assess their views”. We were inspired by this message and engaging the public is exactly the right approach to democratically shape future GMO regulation.

Part of our preparation included several meetings with Maja Horst, Professor in Responsible Research and Innovation at the Department of Technology, Management and Economics Innovation at the Technical University of Denmark. altWe had a chat about the public debate on GMOs, common dilemmas in the GMO debate and how to facilitate public engagement. Maja shared some of her expertise and provided valuable feedback on our content for Folkemødet. Furthermore, she made us realize that deciding on a target group was extremely important for communicating our message and structuring an event. Initially, we thought about Danish non-scientific midagers (40+), a typical sceptical group. We had many discussions about if we should stick to this target group to challenge their views. However, Maja suggested going for a younger age group, in the early twenties, that in turn could challenge their parents' views. In the end we aimed for the younger group and used social media for advertisement.

After talking to Maja we finally settled on three topics for the live debate: 1) Whether or not GMOs are natural, 2) how a cost-benefit analysis can be judged when considering the potential risks and opportunities the new technologies can give to future generations, and 3) whether GMOs should be regulated on the national, EU or global level.

Furthermore, we prepared an online discussion forum as we ideally wanted to take the live debate at Folkemødet as a starting point for a persistent discussion. We decided to use the platform “Kialo” which provides a very fitting structure for the discussion in our opinion. Hereyou can open different subtopics and discussion threads and directly comment on a person’s opinion. Accordingly, we prepared different threads on our three topics of focus. alt

Moreover, we recorded teaser videoscovering a balanced conversation about pros and cons of the subtopics illustrated with examples of potential GM items from the local supermarket. We linked those in the description of our Folkemødet event as well as on the Kialo and they were intended to serve as discussion starters.

The live discussionat Folkemødet was very exciting as we could get out of our academic bubble and discuss the techniques we are so familiar with in a different light. Our aim was to engage people in a live setting and hopefully also moderate opposing opinions in a way that they could understand the other person's reason and thoughts. Thus we prepared a presentation on the platform menti which allows for interactive elements like quizzes, surveys etc. Although we would have wished for more participants we felt like our presentation went very well and engaged people in interesting debates with very different points of view.

Conclusively, we learned how multi-faceted the debate on GMOs is and moreover how challenging to involve people in it. It takes a great effort to practice effective science communication which can only be the basis of a long lasting public discussion on new technologies as well as if and how society should be using them.

EU Parliament

altSynthetic biology research and its industrial implementations have met considerable political and legal hurdles, particularly in the EU. In our process, we realised that we could develop the greatest technology, promising to significantly reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases but that it could never be implemented in an efficient way without change in GMO regulation in the EU and worldwide. Even if there is a legal possibility to put a synthetic biology into practice, its implementation is often not attractive to investors as the regulations are complicated and gives the potential product a bad image from the start. Hence we wanted to get an insight from EU officials about the current state and progress of GMO regulation within the EU which has been getting attention recently with the publication of the EU commission studyby the on the way forward with GMO regulation. We conducted an interview with an EU parliamentarian to get the public representatives’ point of view as well as two civil servants from the EU department for Health and Food Safety as to get an opinion from the executive.
As a citizens’ representative we contacted Viola von Cramon-Taubnadel, Member of the European Parliament and the Green party, and asked about her current take on the subject matter. She generally judged current GMO legislation as inappropriate and ineffective and was hopeful about slow but steady movement towards a change. Nevertheless, she stressed her belief in a bottom-up approach as opposed to the executive pushing this change without the consent of the wider public and parliamentary representation. In terms of how such a change in public opinion or even a balanced and rational debate could be facilitated, she identified the association between big industrial corporations like Monsanto and GMOs as the crucial element. In her opinion it is both the pivotal and most difficult step to take the discussion out of this decades-old framework. In this regard she thinks that the scientific community has the responsibility to better communicate or support the communication of the possible advantages and disadvantages of genetic engineering. Nevertheless, she acknowledged that it cannot be only the responsibility of scientists but that academic institutions should be financially equipped to be able to employ people bridging this gap between science and society.
More precisely, she sees our project as a good example of a technology which could make GMOs practical and approachable for the general public. Having a concrete “GMO technology” like ours which could tackle issues like climate change could engage people in an open discussion about the costs and benefits of the technology rather than a categorical rejection of any such implementation on ideological grounds. Accordingly, she encouraged us to involve people in such a debate based on information about our project. Particularly she suggested addressing the younger generations as they would not be as influenced by the old debates and are going to be the decision-makers of the future at the same time.