Team:Guelph/Human Practices

Human Practices Overview

As a team that strives to improve and learn from our mistakes, the Human Practices portion of this competition was very exciting to work on as we could better our project. Human Practices are essential for the growth of all aspects of our project and as we collected feedback, we realized how significant the information is for iGEM and the science community. In order to make the world a better place and have a lasting impact, the feedback from the people we are trying to help was a great contribution to our project. 

We communicated with a variety of stakeholders and experts in the agriculture field to improve our project while determining how the studies being conducted are responsible and good for the world. The objective of our project is to genetically modify plants with CRISPR to withstand harsher climates that are brought by climate change. 

Early on, we brainstormed values that we felt were important to the Guelph community, iGEM’s mission, and the stakeholders who we are trying to benefit. We established that scientific, environmental, moral, and financial aspects all contributed towards our project design, and thus were crucial in investigating. Also, we needed to understand the legality of our project as we were genetically modifying a plant and if we wanted to deliver it to another country in the future, we needed to see if this was feasible.  To better understand how our project affects stakeholders and the value it holds in the community, we reached out to numerous individuals who were specialists in their fields or were going to be at the receiving end of the impact of our project. 

Contacting individuals within and outside our community that represent these values and can provide us with information to better our project was our next step, after identifying our values. We contacted numerous:

  • Businesses that own farms 

  • Farmers

  • Farmer associations

  • Agriculture companies

  • Seed manufacture companies

  • Horticulture experts

  • Experts in the economy and marketing of agriculture/seeds

  • Experts in policies of import/export of genetically modified plants

When contacting each stakeholder/consultant, we used an engagement letter attached with a package explaining our project. Then, once a meeting time was scheduled, we sent a consent form. Lastly, after collecting the information, we sent a survey to receive further feedback from the stakeholders. 

Outreach Model:

  1. Initial outreach to stakeholders and engagement letter

After looking into the values, the Human Practices team created an initial email and engagement letter to send out to all potential stakeholders. In this email, we included the below engagement letter that outlines all of the aspects of our project. Aside from the research team we also have an engineering department and a business team. This was crucial information for our stakeholders to know, because it emphasized all the aspects where our project could expand into. With a separate engineering team, stakeholders were made aware of our data modeling capabilities.

Alongside an engagement letter, the below email was included when outreaching to every stakeholder. 

Hello (insert name),

My name is [insert name], and I hope this email finds you well. I am a member of the University of Guelph iGEM team which is a group of diverse students working on a synthetic biology project. I am reaching out to you to discuss your potential interest in our project from a stakeholder’s perspective.

A stakeholder, according to iGEM competition criteria, is anyone who could affect or be affected by the implications of our research. Our team has identified you as a stakeholder because (insert reason).

I represent the Integrated Human Practice (iHP) sector of the iGEM team, where we connect with project stakeholders to gain their insight into the practicality and applicability of our project. In essence, we want to know how you could potentially benefit from our work. We have attached a summary to better help you understand our objective as a team. 

We value your insight and appreciate your consideration. Please let us know if you are available to give feedback on our project by July 10th. We estimate that it should only take 25-30 minutes of your time. We are happy to connect over email, or via any telecommunication platform (i.e telephone, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc). 

We look forward to hearing from you!

Many thanks,

[insert name]

iGEM Guelph

  1. Initial consultations and consent forms 

In the following weeks, we got responses from potential stakeholders that were interested in providing feedback and consultation to our team. We set up initial meetings with stakeholders on a variety of platforms including zoom, telephone calls and emails. Responses from stakeholders took anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Due to this, our team conducted meetings and consultations with stakeholders over the span of a month. 

Prior to the initial meeting, our team discussed that we would like to keep a record of all the consultations that we received. As a result, we created a consent form that allowed our team to record all meetings. All stakeholders that were interested in providing us feedback signed and returned the consent form prior to the meetings. 

Feedback and consultations

To better represent the feedback we collected, summaries of all of our consultations are below.

Consultation with Farmer’s Association - Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association

Contact: Chris Duyvelshoff (Crop Protection Advisor)

The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) was established in 1859, which makes it one of Ontario and Canada’s oldest agriculture organizations.

As the voice of Ontario’s fruit and vegetable farmers, the OFVGA is a nationally recognized not-for-profit association that advocates on behalf of Ontario fruit and vegetable farmers and the edible horticulture industry, and represents its members provincially, nationally, and internationally. 

The sector comprises over 3,500 family farms, which support over 30,000 farm-based, non-family jobs in Ontario. Over 125 different fruit and vegetable crops are grown in Ontario with an estimated annual farm gate value of $2.6 billion (2020).

Mission statement: Advocate on behalf of fruit and vegetable farmers of Ontario in partnership with our member associations.

Vision statement: A thriving fruit and vegetable sector.

Why we reached out to them: To gain feedback from experts in the field who have worked with a lot of farmers and are currently combatting the climate change issues related to farming. As a non profit that advocates for farmers, they would have an insight of how applicable our project is with current issues. 

Questions we asked:

  1. What is your company focused on?

  2. Do you have any concerns about our project and how we plan on combating food insecurity

  3. Who might benefit from our project? Who is this valuable to?

  4. Who might be opposed to it? 

  5. How could this impact the economy? (ex. Farm incomes, selling agriculture)

  6. Do you have any idea on how to improve this project’s ethics? 

  7. Since we present our project in a competition and leave our research on a wiki page, do you have any ideas on how to improve this project’s accessibility? 



Upon talking with the OFVGA Projection advisor, Chris Duyvelshoff, our team learned a lot about the current issues that farmers are facing and how CRISPR is impacting farming needs. According to them, irrigation is a costly process that needs to be improved to decrease the cost and aid in environmental causes. Retention of water and producing food at low cost is always a priority in farming and this project could directly impact these costs. 

Aswell, they pushed us to look into the consumer acceptability for this project as we are looking for a permanent basis for our project. A long term solution cannot work if the long term customer acceptability and metabolic costs are not accounted for. This brought into other financial factors an ethical concern for our team to look into. 

Consultation with Horticulture/ Agriculture Company Expert - Horticulture Expert at Corteva

  Contact: Chantal Veilleux

Corteva Agriscience is the only major agriscience company completely dedicated to agriculture. By combining the strengths of DuPont Pioneer, DuPont Crop Protection and Dow AgroSciences, they have harnessed agriculture's brightest minds and expertise gained over two centuries of scientific achievement.

We commit to enhancing lives and the land. As leaders, they pursue a purpose which goes beyond our immediate interests to benefit society.

Mission statement: Enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come. 

Why we reached out to them: This company has an extensive background in agriculture and role as a horticulture expert. We wanted to reach out and gain an understanding of the issues with our project and receive any insight into the field of agriculture where our project would be implemented.  


Although we have received responses from Chantal Veilleux, we have not been able to set up a meeting time that works for both parties. We are awaiting feedback from them. 

Consultation with Expert on Agriculture Economy

 Contact: Dr. Joshua Nasielski

Dr. Nasielski is an assistant Professor at the University of Guelph who is currently conducting research in Ontario’s agriculture. He is starting a research program that is aimed at finding solutions to agronomic problems faced by farmers in eastern and northern OntarioAs well looking into the crop physiology of field crops (Spring cereals, corn, soybeans and legumes). Unique to this research program is the collaboration with the scientific staff and facilities at Winchester, New  Liskeard research facilities.  

Why we reached out to them: We wanted to talk to Dr. Nasielski for two reasons, his experience in the farming industry and his research that is also impacting current Ontario farms. Since he is also outreaching to farms, our tema thought it would be helpful for us to know how he has successfully proposed his idea and research to farmers. As well, he has an extensive list of contacts in this field which we thought would be helpful for our team to learn about as well. 

Questions we asked:

1. What is your research focused on?

2. Do you have any concerns about our project and how we plan on combating food insecurity?

3. Who might benefit from our project? Who is this valuable to?

4. Who might be opposed to it? 

5. How could this impact the economy? (ex. Farm incomes, selling agriculture)

6. Do you have any idea on how to improve this project’s ethics? 

7. Since we present our project in a competition and leave our research on a wiki page, do you have any ideas on how to improve this project’s accessibility? 

Takeaways: This was one of the most eye-opening consultations that our team had. We were able to better understand the financial aspects of this project and understand feasibility. He mentioned that the cost for one bag of seed is typically $300. While planting early can provide farmers with more yield, if the seeds do not survive, then there is major economic risk. As a result of this major issue, our project will be very applicable. If there is frost then the seeds will not need to be wasted or replanted, reducing economic risk. 

As well, it was mentioned that measuring seed length vigorously will be an easier to measure quantity for our research. Under cold and fluctuating temperatures the seed length vigour can be measured. He also mentioned this is what farmers are most interested in. As well he suggested the cold germination tests for our research project to become more feasible in the market. He also shared a contact for a seed company that would be able to look into feasibility for our project.

Additionally, Dr. Nasielski mentioned an area of concern which was education. In general, the population of Ontario is not very familiar with synthetic biology and climate change related to plants. He suggested for us to look into  increasing accessibility via social media and other forms of communication. 

Consultation with Farmer - Sunny Acre Farms

Contact: Mr. David Bianchi

Sunny Acre Farms is located in Brampton, Ontario and specializes in providing freshly grown raspberries, black currant, red currant and garlic to local public and to many supermarkets. Mr. Bianchi’s family has owned this farm for generations. He has worked on his farm for over 50 years and had a lot to share regarding his experience and current issues with farming. 

Why we reached out to them: To understand how applicable our project is in the perspective of a farmer. Also to gauge the amount of interest potential farmers would have in this project. 

Takeaways: There are a lot of water related issues that are currently impacting farmers. He stated that many farms around him are experiencing water shortage and looking to different plants or seeds to maintain their farms. 

He also spoke on the ethics regarding CRISP and synthetic biology. According to him most farmers are on board with CRISPR and like to implement the newly researched seeds into their farms. Other than the few organic farmers, he did not see any ethical issues with our project. 

A concern for him was the policies that are in place regarding seeds. He has been having trouble getting certain seed companies approved, especially those with synthetic biology applications from the United Kingdom. He urged us to look into this prior to continuing without a project. We are currently seeking out more consultation from a government organization regarding the policies. 

Consultation with Seed Manufacturer - OSC Seeds

OSC seeds is the largest wholly Canadian owned and operated seed packet company offering a full line of product including over 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials that are suited for Canada’s various climates. 

OSC’s goal is to provide Canadians with the best quality seed available at competitive pricing. To support their costumes they offer in depth information on planting and growing seeds in different Canadian climate zones. 

Why we reached out to them: As Dr. Nasielski suggested it is beneficial to talk to a seed company and understand how the seed business works within Ontario. 

Takeaways: Although we have received responses from OSC, we have not been able to set up a meeting time that works for both parties. We are awaiting feedback from them.