Incorporating sustainability into innovation is the most fundamental yet most challenging aspect when developing solutions. As young scientists, concerned about the future of our planet we wanted to develop a solution that contributes to sustainable development goals. Thus, when designing OviCloak we ensured that sustainability forms the core of our project.
Through our project, we targeted to achieve 5 SDGs:
Goal #3: Good Health and Wellbeing
Goal #4: Quality Education
Goal #5: Gender Equality
Goal #14: Life below Water
Goal #17: Partnerships for Goals
#3 Good Health and Well Being
3.7 By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes put in box
Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services can contribute to significant health benefits. OviCloak, being a contraceptive, can prevent pregnancy-related health risks in women and reduces the risk of infant and maternal mortality, by reducing the number of births and assists in child spacing.
Despite the health and non-health benefits conferred by usage of contraception, the modern contraceptive prevalence worldwide increased by only 2.1 percentage points from 55% to 57.1% between 2000 and 2009. One of the major reasons for the gradual increase in the usage of modern contraceptives is the fear of side-effects which deter women from using contraceptives leading to unwanted pregnancies negatively impacting their physical and mental health.
Our project, OviCloak is designed to be a long term reversible contraceptive with minimal side effects. In addition, the reversibility of the contraceptive allows an individual to regulate and control their fertility. These attributes of OviCloak can encourage women who do not want to conceive to use contraceptive decreasing the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
The knowledge about sexual and reproductive health plays a pivotal role in the accessibility of its health services. Thus, our team contributed to enhancing sexual and reproductive health-care services though two strategies
- Collecting data regarding the status of awareness on Reproductive Health and Rights
- Reproductive Health and Rights Survey: The survey was conducted with the intention of understanding about the extent of awareness on Reproductive Health and Rights and identifying the major sources of sexuality education in India. The survey included participation of 633 participants. Read more in Education
- In depth Interview: We conducted an in depth Interview with 8 participants to learn about the general opinion of people on existing contraceptives and their perspective on the need for new contraceptives. This allowed us to obtain qualitative data and understand the respondent’s perspective, feelings and experience. Read more in Education
- Conducting Sexual and Reproductive Health awareness sessions
- Shush the Hush: The webinar series was conducted to facilitate discussion on Reproductive Health and Rights, and saw 550+ registrations in total. Due to the conservative nature of Indian society topics surrounding reproductive and sexual health are not widely discussed leading to misconceptions.The session was focussed on debunking myths and misconceptions associated with reproductive and sexual health and educating the public on contraceptive options and safe sexual practices.The webinar conducted received a positive feedback from the participants for the informative session. Read more in Education
- Ask about it: The Instagram live series was launched with an intention to promote discussion on Menstrual Health, STI and UTI in the public. The session allowed us to engage with the public actively and break the stigma surrounding these topics. The live series received over 560+ views in total. Read more in Education
- That skipped chapter; An Instagram Reel series,through which we communicated with the audience about Sexually transmitted Infection (STI), the importance of consent when engaging in sexual activity, representation of sex in media and porn and the myth surrounding the association of hymen with virginity.
- The birds and bees: An Art Exhibition: We put out an art exhibition on the theme of World Contraception Day “Let every pregnancy be a planned one” and got artists from all over the country and the world to present their artwork. We received entries in the form of traditional art and paintings which were posted on our social media pages. Read more in Education
#4 Quality Education
4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations
Our project OviCloak is based on providing a synthetic biology approach to contraception. We undertook this UN sustainable development goal as we planned to educate the people around us on the different aspects of Synthetic Biology.
Synthetic biology has the potential to eradicate the rampant lack of awareness of Biological processes and the scientific method and society at large. The solutions provided by synthetic biology resonate with people and their problems and thus, synthetic biology can cater to the educational needs of people from all backgrounds and become an effective tool to eliminate gender disparities, provide vocational training equally at all levels and uplift the children in vulnerable situations.
We realised the goal through the following activities:
- Gene Gala: The 5-day Mini Summer School was a special effort by team IISER-Tirupati_India in collaboration with team IISER Kolkata to end gender disparity in the field of STEM. Gene Gala saw the constant participation of about 45-50 girl students from high schools under the Directorate of Education, GNCT Delhi. The girl students were able to grasp the concepts of synthetic biology well and had a positive learning experience with our teams. Read more in Education
- Translation of Science: An interactive zine, regarding microbiome was created and translated to a local language Hindi.This exposed students to a new arena of science in a fun mode.It was also accessible to students studying science in schools with the Hindi medium of instruction. Read more in Education
- Sign Language: To increase access of synthetic biology to people who are hard of hearing, we translated our promo video in Sign language, using STEM signs to explain the processes. It helped open up a dialogue between science and the deaf community. Read more in Education
- LAB EYES: To increase synthetic biology laboratory access to visually impaired individuals, we collaborated with two software engineering graduates from India to design and implement an assistive technology software. This software allows the identification of chemicals and consumables without resorting to touching, smelling, or tasting them. Read more in Education
- Agastya: Our team conducted a virtual synthetic biology workshop session with students from the Navodaya schools through the Agastya foundation. The pandemic has been hard on the student community, depriving such students of excellence the right exposure to the scientific method. Our workshop introduced them to the basics of the scientific method, the tools, and techniques of synthetic biology and ended with a holistic discussion on the process of biological contraception and introduction to our project. Read more in Education
#5: Gender Equality
UNICEF have found that Girls are less likely than boys to achieve high proficiency levels in STEM and at upper secondary, fewer girls choose STEM majors.
As undergraduates pursuing science and researching in synthetic biology : a more advanced field of science, we tried to achieve Gender Equality in STEM through following collaborations with other iGEM teams.
- Gene Gala : A 5-day Mini Summer School in collaboration with iGEM Team of IISER Kolkata, for 45-50 girl students from high schools under the Directorate of Education, GNCT Delhi.The girl students were able to grasp the concepts of synthetic biology. Read more in Education
- Fem club: A club initiative of teams Moscow City and Team LMSU, where female members of iGEM teams come together and discuss the various challenges faced by women in the field of STEM. This helped us act collectively to overcome the barriers in future.
- Rosalind Chronicles: a collaborative initiative by the team of iGEM ULaval iGEM Concordia-Montreal and iGEM Patra, which documented inspiring woman scientist and female team members of each team.This helped us reflect upon our own team and realise the invaluable role of women in STEM.
5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
UNFPA says: “Family planning is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and it is a key factor in reducing poverty.” They found that when women and couples are empowered to plan their family, women are better able to complete their education; women’s autonomy within their households is increased; and their earning power is improved.Thus leading to empowerment of women. OviCloak, being a long term reversible contraceptive with least to side effects, was aimed to ensure gender equality and empower women by allowing women to regulate their fertility.
The UN's World Contraceptive Day (WCD) coalition agrees that addressing gender inequality is one of the four areas that needs development globally to avoid/reduce unplanned pregnancy. This dependence between family planning and gender equality was striking.
Through meetings with stakeholders like Ms.Kathy Walking and Ms.Nalini Jameela, we understood that to empower girls and young women with the knowledge they need to take control of their sexual and reproductive health, which we did through above mentioned activities like Shush the Hush, Ask about it, That skipped chapter, and The birds and bees.
In addition to achieving equality among binary genders.We also, took a step to address the inequality in the minority genders by addressing the contraceptive needs of transmasculine spectrum. This was a result of meeting with our stakeholders Dr.Frances Grimstad and NGO-Sex Education.India.Hence, we believe this indeed is a novel step towards achieving this SDG.
#14: Life below Water
14.1 By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.
We identified early on in our project that the current contraceptives are harmful to the environment, particularly the marine environment. Most of the synthetic hormones present in the current hormonal contraceptives are flushed out of the body and reach the marine environment. OviCloak, is a non-hormonal method of contraception reducing the impact of the contraceptive to the environment. In addition, the bacteria is genetically engineered with a kill switch to prevent the bacteria from escaping to the environment, thus ensuring biosafety. In the near future, OviCloak will be instrumental in reducing the environmental pollution caused by other methods of contraception
In addition to contributing to the goal through our project design, we conducted outreach activities to spread awareness on the environmental impact of the currently available contraceptives through the following programmes:
- Discussion groups : We started with leading small discussion groups on this topic with the environment club of our institute called the “Prakriti” club. Our session with them helped them understand the cause of green contraception and through their club’s activities, further light can be shed on this topic in the coming years.
- Pledge and Pamphlet : On the world environment day (5 June, 2021), we circulated a brochure explaining the concepts of Green contraception and what is the correct way to dispose off condoms so as to create minimal disruption to the environment. In addition to that, to hold the stakeholders accountable, we started a pledge for using green contraception, which saw more than a 100 responses.
#17: Partnerships for Goals
17.6 Enhance North-South, South-South, and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology, and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism
iGEM is a one of a kind organization where people from various cultures, languages, and countries are united by just one goal - to address real world problems with the help of synthetic biology. Thus, any iGEM experience is incomplete without the spirit of collaboration and partnership.
Team IISER-Tirupati_India has been involved in this spirit of collaboration since the beginning of our iGEM experience.
- Syntrack: Our synthetic biology podcast, we collaborated within and across borders to facilitate the process of knowledge sharing on mutually agreeable terms. With our collaborative efforts, we were able to have discussions on relevant applications of synthetic biology that are now freely accessible to the public, becoming a right step in sharing the scientific method and its application from around the world with the world.
- LAB EYES : Our collaborative spirit didn’t stop within iGEM. For making an assistive technology software for increased accessibility to a synthetic biology laboratory, we collaborated with software engineering students.We have been in constant touch with professionals from other fields as well.
- Our partnerships across borders have been to facilitate the processes of synthetic biology by sharing knowledge with our fellow iGEMers. This process has been extremely fruitful as all the teams are able to gain scientific benefit and learn from each other. Read more in partnership and collaborations page.
We believe that these small steps will be an add on to sustainable development for the coming future.