Team:IISER-Tirupati India/Inclusivity



The above quote has been an inspiration to our work in all aspects of our project during iGEM 2021 whether it’s our project design, laboratory accessibility, or outreach.

When we were introduced to the field of Synthetic Biology, there was no doubt in our minds that this is the science of the future. Science that has the potential to not only acknowledge but solve real-world problems and bring about a positive change. 

Historically, the world has been favouring individuals belonging to the gender binary and even today, little effort has been made to acknowledge gender diverse communities. 

Similarly, able-bodied individuals are favoured, subtle and maybe even unnoticeable cues give differently abled/disabled people the sense that they don’t belong here.

While synthetic biology has amazing attributes that make it the science of the future, it’s scientific method still follows on the steps of ableism and assuming the gender binary. 

So with this year's iGEM project, Team IISER-Tirupati_India has strived to make the field of Synthetic Biology more inclusive for differently-abled/disabled groups and gender-diverse communities. We wanted to change the perception of science to be only accessible to people with abled bodies or the solutions that come from science to be only for people who belong to the gender binary. 

This project not only allowed to us have free discussions about the tabooed topics of reproductive and sexual health, but also about the inclusion of everyone irrespective of gender, sex, interests, and disabilities/abilities! 

Our efforts have been to make the field of Synthetic Biology more inclusive of these communities that have been left behind in conventional scientific methods and society at large. 

The Journey from a “contraceptive for women” to a “contraceptive for uterus owners”

When we started working on our project, OviCloak was just envisioned as a contraceptive for women!  But as and when we connected with people, we realized that OviCloak is much more than that, it’s a novel contraceptive for all people with a uterus!  The journey from making a contraceptive for women to making a contraceptive for all uterus owners was as amazing as it sounds. 

This journey in a glimpse is shown here:- 

In our meeting with Dr Madhulika Pathak and Dr Prameela Menon, we were asked a very fundamental question about “women” who have PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. At that time, we realized that our approach to contraception has been limited to the ideal reproductive tract anatomy and hormonal levels of “women”. We set out to improve upon this fact by connecting with more people.

Meeting with Dr Madhulika
Dr Madhulika
Meeting with Dr Prameela
Dr Prameela Menon

Frequent discussions with our Institute’s LGBTQIA+ awareness club “Rainbows of IISER Tirupati” helped us understand the importance of individuals belonging to the transmasculine and intersex individuals as our stakeholders. Inspired by these discussions, we stopped the usage of the term “woman” when referring to our end users. The term “woman” only refers to a particular gender of the gender binary. As gender is a social construct [1], the term “woman” does not include all the stakeholders of OviCloak. The Rainbows club also helped us get in contact with some intersex individuals from India and helped us through the initial phases of unlearning the gender binary. As a result of that, we started calling OviCloak a “novel female contraceptive '' instead of a “novel contraceptive for women ''.

Rainbows of IISER Tirupati
Rainbows of IISER Tirupati

  1. In our meeting with the not-for-profit organization “Sex Education for India”, we were asked to come up with a better term than “female” for describing the end-users of OviCloak as the term “female” is not inclusive of individuals belonging to the “transmasculine” and “intersex” communities who don’t identify with the terms “male” and “female”. 

    As a result of this meeting, we started to brainstorm on a more inclusive term and came across phrases such as “people with uteruses”, “people with vagina”, “people with testes” and many more coming into use nowadays. We were instantly attracted to these phrases as they don’t assume the gender or sex of any individual.

    A screenshot from our meeting with the NGO, Sex education for India
    Sex Education India
  2. Apurupa Vatsalya, who is a queer affirmative Sexuality Educator also helped us in understanding the different needs of contraception for people belonging to the LBGTQIA+ community. They have been in constant touch with us from the beginning of our human practices to sensitize us about the topic of reproductive health and helped us know more about the contraceptive options available in India for individuals of transgender and intersex communities and how are they counseled. They also helped us understand the different gender reaffirming surgeries performed and what are the surgeries performed on people who are intersex at birth. With respect to OviCloak, they encouraged us to use gender-neutral pronouns and packaging, so that everyone can feel they have access to it.

    Apurupa Vatsalya
    Apurupa Vatsalya
  3. Dr Frances Grimstad

    Dr Grimstad helped us in understanding the contraceptive needs of transmasculine individuals and intersex individuals. We presented her with some intersex conditions that we found were relevant in the context of our end-users and took her opinion on how to make OviCloak more suitable for them. 

    Dr. Grimstad also applauded our product name “OviCloak '' and our project logo as well as they focus on the gamete it acts on and not on the gender or sex of the end-user. In her opinion as well, the term “uterus owners'' or “people with uteruses'' should be used to address the stakeholders of OviCloak.

    Meeting with Dr Grimstad
    Dr. Grimstad

    She made us realize that the fact that OviCloak is non-hormonal and will be attractive to individuals belonging to the transmasculine spectrum. She encouraged us to use gender-neutral terms and told us that creating change can be uncomfortable for everybody, but it is a necessary step in the right direction. Inspired from this discussion, we made a gender neutral vocabulary which can be accessed here

    Dr. Grimstad also helped us understand the reasons behind the lack of inclusive contraception.She said that the biggest reason is financing due to lower demands and lack of funds.unfortunately, these are communities which are left uncared for.She explained to us how there is a lot of miscommunication to intersex individuals about thier fertility and thus, they have a general distrust of the medical system. Thus, making a contraceptive that can garner their attention and trust is a challenging task. But with the right effort it can be done and our team is on the right path!

Thus, Ovicloak became a contraceptive for all uterus owners. 

Throughout our outreach and documentation process, we have tried to use inclusive language, especially with reference to the end-users of OviCloak. 

A message from Uterus
A message from Uterus

Through some more research and by reflecting on the information received from our Integrated Human Practices, we realized that these small steps and proposed changes for individuals with different anatomies can make OviCloak a contraceptive for all people with a uterus. 

To learn about the proposed modifications to include all uterus owners,

Click here on button to read more.



We were appalled by seeing that only 14% of women in India hold jobs in STEM fields. Hence with our outreach, we wanted to bridge this gender gap and create a more inclusive space for women in STEM. We reflected upon our own high school experiences and realized that most girls lose interest in STEM research during these formative years and thus, we decided that it’s best we start early. 

We reached out to the Directorate of Education, GNCT, New Delhi and conducted a Mini-Summer school “Gene Gala” for the girl students from the government schools of New Delhi in collaboration with the iGEM 2021 team of IISER Kolkata. 

The 5-day mini-summer school saw a registration of about 90 girls students and a regular participation of 50-55 girl students from the senior year of high school. 

The mini-summer school classes conducted by the team members of IISER Tirupati and IISER Kolkata gave the students a holistic view of synthetic biology and was also based on their current high school curriculum.

We received positive feedback from the girl students. The predominant thought amongst the girls that biotechnology is a tough discipline was crushed after the summer school classes and they were excited about careers in STEM research.Their teachers also gave positive feedback on our Session handbook and plan to distribute it to other students in their class in the future. 

Seeing the positive and enthusiastic participation and feedback of girl students to synthetic biology has made us believe that the gender gap in STEM can be bridged with initiatives like “Gene Gala” and the Directorate of Education’s Program “STEM Power for DoE Girls”. We believe that this summer school provided the students with all the necessary tools to explore the realms of Scientific research and made them believe that there is a bright future ahead of their hard work. 


When we were in the beginning stages of OviCloak, all our team members were completely oblivious of the trans and intersex communities of people. Our human practices gave us a push to go the extra mile and learn about these communities of people. As scientists, our first step was to go and find the various scientific literature that was published on these communities. But more often than not, it was very hard for our team members to find the right definitions and right scientific literature that was in our line of inquiry. 

We realized that along with the lack of awareness, these hindrances in finding the correct literature might be one of the reasons why these communities are often not included in new scientific research-based solutions and why still most of the research being carried out today favors the gender binary. 

To take a step in the right direction and to include the gender-diverse communities in the current scientific literature, we came up with a solution. 

We went on to different databases and searched terms related to the different intersex conditions and the transgender spectrum on them. With the help of a software called EPPI-Reviewer Version:, we were able to sort for duplicates in the literature and then arrange them according to the different and relevant search strings. You can read more about this database on our Excellence page 


Sign Language 

Sign Language is a language without words and the use of hand gestures and facial expressions is done to convey meanings of concepts. 

Every region of the world has its own sign language, made according to the cultural differences, norms, and understanding of the people belonging to that region. In recent years, ASL or American Sign Language has gained much recognition in the world, but we wanted to explore the signs at home

As per the 2011 Census, the total population of deaf persons in India numbered about 50 lakh or 5 million (source: ISLRTC). But it was only recently in July 2021 that it was announced that the Indian Sign Language or ISL will be taught in schools and the content of the standard school books will be converted to the Indian Sign Language. The Indian Sign language is being developed at a rapid pace but still, most of the STEM related terms have not found a place in them. 

As of yet, there are no educational materials for Science in ISL that are freely available for the deaf population of India and we wanted to bring a change in that area. 

We translated our Promo Video in Indian Sign language with some help of American Sign language (ASL) for some words which have not yet been described in the Indian Sign Language. 

[Alt Text] : A girl in a lab coat explaining the idea of Team IISER-Tirupati_India for the iGEM 2021 competition using Indian Sign language 

One of our team members had some basic knowledge of Indian Sign language from high school. After practice and appropriate guidance, we were able to translate our promo video into Indian Sign Language. 

Our sign language video has been hosted on free online servers like YouTube and Social Media platforms like Instagram for easy and free access. In addition images and subtitles were also provided to enhance the learning experience of Deaf individuals. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the use of masks still prevalent in India, most of the professionals working in Sign Language were busy in COVID response to the deaf people of India and thus, weren’t available to discuss the prospects of adding new STEM words to the ISL dictionary. 

Nonetheless, we were able to successfully translate our promo video in the Indian Sign language and received feedback from the deaf community of India and ISL translators as well. 

All in all, our effort was appreciated and many people from the community asked us more questions regarding our project. We feel that iGEM has the power to lead a revolution in accessibility in STEM and it all starts with these small steps. 

Translation to LOCAL LANGUAGES 

India has many schools that have Hindi or other local languages as their medium of instruction and conventionally many new discoveries, scientific articles, and new emerging fields like Synthetic Biology have been written in English. This makes it difficult for people who have studied these subjects in local languages to understand and grasp these concepts. 

Thus, we made sure that our outreach is not limited to just one language group. 

We converted our Comic Zine to local languages like Hindi. This will help students from all backgrounds to interact with these Zines and learn while answering some fun questions in their own language. 

Fitting in the shoes of our previous iGEM teams, we converted our promo video in different languages from India as well for it to reach a wider audience across our country. 

Video links of different languages 

  1. Hindi - Download 
  2. Marathi - Download 
  3. Telugu - Download 
  4. Malayalam - Download 
  5. Tamil - Download 
  6. Odia - Download 

Our podcast has also been translated into the Hindi language and the first episode has already been released. In this podcast, we explain the different concepts of Synthetic Biology, how it came into being, what are some of the experimental procedures and ethical concerns of this field in the Hindi language. Its translation into other languages is also in the process.

SynTrack Podcast
SynTrack Podcast

Our Podcast in Hindi Language

The main challenge faced by our team in translating our work into regional languages was finding the exact scientific words in the regional languages. Even when such words were found, as they were not being used by people regularly, finding the correct flow is a huge task. 

Nonetheless, We feel that our translation work has broken the barriers of language that restrict individuals from understanding the concepts of STEM and bring about a positive change in STEM education.


According to WHO, India is home to 8 million blind people and about 62 million visually impaired individuals

There has been a rapid development of the braille system of writing, with the advent of regional braille. Considerable progress has been made in making the theoretical/virtual world available through chrome extensions converting text to braille or text to speech, braille printers, screen readers, and even braille textbooks.

We felt that now it was high time to make the laboratories accessible to individuals belonging to the low vision and legally blind students

Being visually impaired doesn’t hamper a person’s abilities to analyze scientific results, think scientifically, or even write papers. So, why should it hamper their ability to work independently in a laboratory?

We got to brainstorming about the ideas for the same and were able to take the first steps in unlearning ableism in a laboratory setting


For making the laboratory accessible to low vision and legally blind individuals, we collaborated with students from the Inderprastha Engineering College, Ghaziabad, India, to come up with a solution.

Together we developed a software called “LAB EYES” that can scan QR codes and convert them into speech. 

This is developed as a freely available desktop app and website. The converted speech will let the user know what is the chemical or consumable they are using and easily find them.

A software like this will be especially useful for the Low vision and blind individuals. The user just needs to point the camera at the equipment and the app/website will tell them what it is by scanning the QR code present on it. This software is now available as a desktop app for static computers in the lab, and a website to be accessed by anyone around the world. 

The lab eyes team

The software code is uploaded in the Github repository and made accessible for future iGEM teams to get inspired and build on.

Through our QR code library, QR codes for commonly used consumables and chemicals in a synthetic biology laboratory are made freely available for future iGEM teams and Synthetic biology laboratories to print and place in their labs.

Thus, this software is replicable as well as an accessible way towards inclusivity

Due to ongoing COVID restrictions in India, we couldn’t invite any low vision or legally blind students from the community to come to the lab and test the software for us, but we believe it is a step in the right direction to make our laboratory accessible and in extension all laboratories anywhere in the world

To read more about LAB EYES, See Excellence 


During the development of LAB EYES, we realized that a laboratory has many big and static instruments, that have similar shapes and sizes and cannot be distinguished on the basis of just touch. For example, refrigerators of different temperatures, thermocyclers, and centrifuge machines. 

To avoid confusion in this equipment, we made labels for different equipment in Braille and put them in the appropriate and accessible places on the instrument. 

These braille stickers are extremely easy to make and this technique can be implemented by laboratories around the world to make their laboratory accessible. 

We have also made braille stickers for most of the immobile lab equipment like centrifugation machine, weighing balance, refrigerators, laminar flow, and our UG lab nameplate to name a few. 

Braille labels for our instruments
Braille labels for our instrument
Braille labels for our lab equipment

Download sticker making templates and instructions 


We used our reach in Social media to educate people about the different genders and communities. 

Inspired by one of the blogs posted on iGEM blogs, we urged iGEM teams to make a token of welcomeness that will be placed in their workplace. We initiated a challenge on Instagram during the Pride month of June to bring attention to the cause of gender-diverse communities and highlight the importance of Pride month within the iGEM community through the same. 

Pride month challenge
The Pride Month Challenge

The iGEM 2021 team of FCB UNAL took part in our challenge and made a very interesting “token of welcomeness” in their laboratory.

Our own team members also made much such paraphernalia such as designer stationery stands, paperweights, bookmarks, and embroidered handkerchiefs all pridely depicting the rainbow colors and marking our team as an ally of the LGBQTIA+ communities. Any rainbow-colored paraphernalia symbolizes the presence of an inclusive place for all irrespective of gender. 

Our Token of Welcomness

We also made a crossword on the different terms used with respect to the LGBTQIA+ communities and distributed awareness brochures on the same through our Social media handles. Moreover, the crossword has been hosted on such a site that it can be accessed by anyone on the internet who has a love for puzzles. 

Download Crossword 

In our social media, we have also provided alternate text with the advanced features of Instagram, so that everyone has access to the content posted by us. 


Tone Indicators 

Tone indicators are shorthand words that are used to convey the tone of a sentence.

According to a study conducted by Albert Mehrabian, who is a professor of psychology at UCLA found that about ‘93% of liking is from non-verbal cues. 38% liking is from the tone of voice while an additional 55% is from body language.’ 

When we are accessing information online, these non-verbal cues are almost entirely absent. This can make web surfing difficult for people belonging to the neurodivergent spectrum as they understand the tones of sentences differently. 

During our outreach, we came into contact with people from disabled communities and interacting with them online, we felt how important it is to use tone indicators with our texts, tweets, and captions. The use of emoticons on social media and messaging is common, but this habit is not inclusive for all as emoticons can have different meanings in different cultures and it also becomes difficult to interpret the tone of some common English catchphrases especially with people whose primary language is not English

We have used tone indicators while putting the content on our team wiki when necessary.

We also put in the suggestions to the iGEM organization to start using tone indicators in tweets/social media posts instead of Emoticons. 

Moreover, we have indicated the tone of the content that we have put on our wiki wherever necessary like our team introduction page and besides any quotes. The tone is “/gen” wherever not indicated. 

Click here to Download  the meaning and symbols of Tone Indiators

Gender Pronouns 

Gender pronouns are words that people use to refer to others without using their names. Using a person’s correct gender pronouns leads to a more inclusive environment and affirms a person’s gender identity. A study [2] in the year 2016 found that affirming a person’s pronouns and thereby, their gender lowers depression and raises the self-esteem of individuals.

Getting familiar with different gender pronouns for different gender identities helped us unlearn the gender binary. We started by knowing the gender pronouns of our team members and did not assume the pronouns of each other. Adding pronouns to email signatures and business cards can also help normalize the importance of using correct pronouns and fostering an inclusive environment.

Through our iGEM journey in the pandemic, we noticed that more often than not, these cues to enhancing user experience online were missing on the various online platforms, including our very own iGEM slack server. We combined all of our suggestions and sent them to iGEM HQ in hopes of making iGEM a more inclusive space for all individuals irrespective of their gender or abilities. 

PDF of the suggestions of making Online Inclusive spaces is here


With respect to our own team,we have an almost equal representation of all genders. In addition, our team members also belong to different regions and cultures from India. Each of our team members have unique skills, interests and ideologies regarding synthetic biology. This has helped us understand each aspect of our project holistically by getting the point of views from so many different backgrounds. 

Our team has come a long way in unlearning ableism and the gender binary. Our wiki has also been made following the web accessibility guidelines and every image posted on our project wiki has been provided with alt tags for visually challenged and blind individuals.Its text can be easily converted to the braille system by a google extension.


  • Rosalind Chronicles

    Rosalind Chronicles is a collaborative initiative by the team of iGEM ULaval iGEM Concordia-Montreal and iGEM Patras. Through this collaboration, we clicked a photo of the female members of our team and named a female scientist who is an inspiration to our team. Upon reflection, we realized that the scientist that inspires our team is our Secondary Principal Investigator Prof G. Ambika. She has inspired our team to be the best version of ourselves through hard work and perseverance. Her inputs in the mathematical modeling aspects of our project have been invaluable and we are grateful to be working with her on this project. Through this collaboration, we were able to reflect upon our own team and realise the invaluable role of women in STEM. Looking around, we found evidence that without the involvement and active participation of the women members in our team, our project journey would never have been so fruitful.

    Our Inspiration- Prof. G.Ambika
    Our Inspiration- Prof. G.Ambika

    A shot with all the female members of our team
    The Wonder Women of our team
  • Fem Club

    The Fem club is a collaborative initiative of teams Moscow City and Team LMSU. It's a club where female members of iGEM teams come together and discuss the various challenges faced by women in the field of STEM. It was delightful for our team to meet the members of other teams who can understand and empathize with each other from miles away. We were able to understand how different cultures perceive the roles of women and how it affects their careers in STEM. We also discussed some possible solutions on how to maintain a work-life balance and not let work-related stress come in the way of our personal relationships. It was a very free and open-minded discussion which was enjoyed thoroughly by all the iGEMers present there.

    The Fem Club
    The Fem Club


Our team feels that the barriers to synthetic biology or STEM accessibility at large are the deep rooted mentalities of Ableism and assuming the Gender Binary. But in truth, there exists a wonderful diversity in humankind with different needs and abilities and it is their right to be included in the problem solving process as well as the solution. Team IISER -Tirupati_India strongly believes that equality and accessibility cannot be achieved in STEM unless we actively take part in including the wonderful diversity seen all around us. 

Our efforts with our iGEM 2021 project OviCloak have been to acknowledge the barriers associated with inclusion in STEM and then find solutions to these barriers. First and foremost, we started by unlearning ableism and the gender binary ourselves and thus have done substantial work this year to build solutions that can reflect upon our goal to include everyone irrespective of their gender and abilities/disabilities

The work documented above was done keeping in mind the importance of constant dialogue with the communities and our local values. The documentation process is such that future iGEM teams can build on it and expand on it to include more communities in STEM, thus keeping the cycle of inclusion going. For example, the gender neutral vocabulary, LAB EYES software, Braille labels, Gene Gala resources and many more. 

We are extremely grateful to all the people who have contributed in helping us take these steps necessary towards inclusion and to the iGEM organization for providing us with a platform to expand access to synthetic biology and science more broadly. 

References :- 

  1. Source: WHO -  
  2. Glynn, T. R., Gamarel, K. E., Kahler, C. W., Iwamoto, M., Operario, D., & Nemoto, T. (2016). The role of gender affirmation in psychological well-being among transgender women. Psychology of sexual orientation and gender diversity, 3(3), 336.
  3. Source: WHO link -
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