iGEM Lund 2021

iGEM Lund 2021


How it started

Paris-Saclay contacted us early during the iGEM year. After a bit of brainstorming, we found that we both wanted to take part in promoting peer-reviewed and science-based information. The idea came from our human practice project findings and us worryingly observing how misinformation seeps into our everyday lives, especially concerning the global covid-19 vaccination program. It was also neat that the project fulfilled the Education & Communication criterion.
Picture from zoom meeting with team Paris-Saclay
We decided to reach out to SynthEthics. SynthEtics is an initiative formed on iGEM 2019 by amongst other people in the Lund team. SynthEtics gather articles from around the world that discuss the prospects and risks of modern synthetic biology. One can find more about them here.

Team Lund contacted SynthEthics and asked whether we could participate on their platform. We did not only want to publish an article; we wanted to produce videos as well. SynthEthics said yes to feature us on their platform. Paris-Saclay liked the video idea too. iGETHICS was born!

Shared Objective

iGETHICS mindmap

Our objective was to produce content that addresses ethics in synthetic biology. We chose a video format since viewers retain 95% of the information conveyed in a video, compared to 10% in a text [1].

Both of our teams were to produce one TED talk-inspired video each for the other team to watch. Then we would discuss each others’ findings and arguments in a roundtable-style conversation for a final video.

The goal was to investigate the ethical point of view from both of our project’s standpoints. Since Lund’s project idea was to gene modify probiotics to battle neurodegenerative diseases, we chose to discuss GMOs and the legislation in Europe. Team Paris-Saclay is working on a project relating to endometriosis. They thus discussed screening women for endometriosis on a large scale and the potential false-positive results that might lead to unnecessary suffering.


Writing Script and filming the video

It’s essential to keep a video engaging since the attention span of a video consumer is limited to 8.25 seconds [2]! The digital world is noisy, with many stakeholders trying to grab the attention of the viewer. We, therefore, had to find the balance in making the viewer stay engaged in the video without compromising the seriousness of the topic?

Melina Claesson Stern in front of the camera during iGETHICS filming We, therefore, took much inspiration from TED talks. We incorporated a short and beautiful intro, an engaging speaking style shot from different angles, and the iconic red rug.

In the end, we decided to tweak the TED formula a bit to match our reality. For example, we did not have an audience. We also modified the solo presenter style; three presenters from our team took turns to present instead. However, the TED organization has set an upper limit of 18 minutes per speech [3]. The upper time limit was something we decided to apply to our video. Our meeting early in the summer with Zack Abbott, CEO of ZBiotics, gave us insight into how everyday people approach biology jargon, which was an essential factor in phrasing the video script. His striking example was that when regular people hear the word “protein,” they think of “chicken” and not necessarily protein as the building blocks of our human body. The Zack conversation can be found click here.

Caption: Behind the scenes of the video production. With Covid limiting our access to a lecture hall with a stage, we found an alternative, but the iconic TED rug was there in frame.

Paris Saclay Group Photo

Paris-Saclay filmed their video on an actual stage and featured a PowerPoint presentation in the background.
During the scriptwriting part of our partnership, we decided to get some input from a TEDx specialist. Our French partners interviewed Christian Van Guysel, the TEDx contact person at Université Paris-Saclay, about conducting, preparing, and executing a TED talk. Afterward, they sent us a comprehensive list of bullet points to think about when producing the video and performing a TED talk. Combined with Abbott’s remarks about how to make the footage inclusive to an audience without a science background, we landed in both an informal but informative format.

Our probiotics and GMO survey also contributed valuable information used in the script and the article on SynthEthics. To find the discussion of our survey results, click here.

Turning the script into an article

After filming, we decided to write an article on the SynthEthics platform. The writing style was a bit more formal and academic to fit the forum’s previous articles’ class. The video targeted people with a background or interest in synthetic biology. We received help from Erik Hartman, founder of SynthEthics and previous iGEM:er from Lund. He gave us helpful comments to set the appropriate tone. The final article is found here. The iGETHICS-video can be viewed right here or on our youtube channel.

iGETHICS article
Caption: When the article finally was published it was advertised on several social media platforms, here’s a screenshot from Instagram. The feeling of pride when the article went public was amazing!

Panel discussion

With EU vaccine certifications in our hands and the Netherlands opening up their society after the pandemic, we chose Amsterdam as the meeting point in the grand finale, the panel discussion!

We designed the panel discussion to allow both teams to revisit our previous work, namely the article and the video, and sit down to discuss and answer questions. At this stage, we were not just partners in video production; we were also each other's audience. After several weeks of producing a video and writing an article, it's easy to become blind to our flaws in terms of communication style. What might seem obvious for us writers might be pretty tricky for the audience to understand. Collage from filming
Caption: Both teams in action in front of the camera. Shooting in Vondelpark to the left, and in the right picture we’re shooting on the rooftop of the Nemo Science Museum.

It was also clear that our panel discussion wasn’t just asking questions and digging deeper into each topic. It turned out to be something more significant, mainly the importance of battling science misinformation and networking. We reached related conclusions; Lund advocated for more scientific research, and Paris-Saclay wished for more educational outreach. Despite our different topics, we united in our belief that science-based knowledge cannot be neglected.

Our Human Practice project brought us into this partnership. When it was all done and time to close the loop, we circled back to the starting point: we need more scientific and educational efforts. Lund requested research and a scientific testing framework to determine whether GM probiotics were safe for humans and the environment. Paris-Saclay wanted to bring endometriosis into the limelight and break the taboo related to women’s health. Finally, before we sign off, we would like to stress that more education and research will always be needed. To view our panel discussion on youtube, click here.

Final Thoughts on the Partnership

We learned several lessons along the way. The first one is not to underestimate the difficulty of writing popular science. Making complex knowledge accessible to the public is an essential and complicated task. We want to extend our respect to the community of natural science communicators. They are doing a terrific job.

Another fantastic lesson we learned is that you can form and execute goals with strangers. Before our partnership, we knew no one from Paris-Saclay. For most of the partnership, we kept in touch digitally. During our collaboration, it was always a source of happiness to get a notification on the phone showing our french partner’s progress. When we finally got the chance to meet, it felt like meeting an old friend. Armed with the same goals, we were able to complete the final task while at the same time gaining a bit of intercultural competence. Picture of the iGETHICS team


[1] “The Psychology of Video”; Bell, Ginger;updated June 17, 2020:

[2] “The Psychology Behind Video Consumers”; Gribbs, Sophia; updated February 12, 2020:

[3] ”TEDx Rules”; retrieved 2021 October 6, 2021: