It was important for us to consider the contributions of our project to the sustainable development of the world; therefore, we turned to the Sustainable Development Goals. We were determined to encourage sustainability within our own project and the projects of other teams, which led us to collaborations with other teams pertaining to sustainability.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of seventeen goals that the United Nations aim to achieve by 2030 (United Nations, n.d.). These universal goals address the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges in the world to achieve a better future for all (United Nations, n.d.). Some of these goals include improving health and education, reducing inequality and poverty, spurring economic growth, and tackling climate change. A full list of all SDGs and subgoals can be found here. The United Nations calls for all countries to help tackle these goals in a global partnership.
Figure 1 - List of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, n.d.)
Tackling the SDGs
Although there were a multitude of SDGs that our project addresses, we decided to focus on goals 3: Good Health and Well-Being, 4: Quality Education, and 17: Partnership for Goals.
Figure 2 - The three Sustainable Development Goals our project focuses on
In terms of SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being, we decided to hone in on subgoal 3.4, which aims to reduce the mortality rate from “non-communicable diseases and promote mental health” (United Nations, n.d.). Non communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases, include conditions that are not onset by an infection and often require lifelong treatment and care. One common treatment for these patients are transfusions of red blood cells. Because patients are unable to individually synthesize an adequate and healthy amount of red blood cells, these transfusions are lifesaving.
However, the availability of blood for transfusions is regulated by the supply and demand of safe, transfusable blood. Due to issues with patient-donor specificity and decreasing donations rates among younger populations, there is a low supply of blood for these transfusions while demand continues to rise (WHO, 2010). These issues result in the inability for patients to receive critical treatment they need to live a normal, healthy life. To reduce the amount of deaths of patients with these conditions, our project can convert the incompatible blood to the universal blood type, O, which can be given to the patient until a blood supply of their own blood type comes in. Our universal blood ensures that patients are consistently receiving successful blood transfusions that will improve their quality of life, thus tackling SDG goal 3.4.
Our project also tackles subgoal 3.6 which aims to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. We interviewed a trauma doctor to better understand our project’s role in reducing deaths from accidents. In emergency rooms, blood transfusions maintain the patient’s vital levels to allow for surgery to stop internal bleeding. If there is a need for blood transfusion, the doctor will contact the hospital’s blood bank for the patient’s specific blood type. If an immediate blood transfusion is needed, such as a road traffic accident, the patient will first be given 1-2 packs of the universal O negative blood, before the patient’s blood type is tested. Then, the patient will receive the blood type specific to their true blood type. Through converting blood to the universal blood type O, our project eliminates the extra procedure of blood type matching, which can lower the number of deaths and injuries in road traffic accidents directly addressing subgoal 3.6.
For goal 4, our project more specifically targets goal 4.5, which aims to eliminate discrimination in education. As part of our project, we developed a Synthetic Biology educational website with activity packets, instructional videos, worksheets, and a reward system. Topics included fundamental lessons on central dogma, gene expression, and gel electrophoresis. Through the internet, we hope to reach a larger audience and allow anyone around the world to have access to STEM field education. Inclusivity is a central focus of this website; our free and downloadable activity packets come in both English and Mandarin Chinese, as does our website. We are able to lower the barriers -- such as accessibility and language-- to education and allow everyone to have the resources to learn about fascinating science topics. We envision that the packets can help reduce discrimination in education as they can be distributed to groups that may not have access to as much scientific knowledge and resources, especially during times of the pandemic. We distributed the website along with lab equipment to a local Taiwanese Aboriginal school, where students do not have access to extensive STEM education. We shipped over essential lab materials and carefully guided them through foundational lab techniques in a virtual event.
Additionally, our team tackled the gender disparity in synthetic biology in our collaboration event with our school’s Girls in STEM Club and FRC team. We held a STEM Workshop, an event where we invited young female students to explore through hands-on experience in the science and technology fields. Our event promoted inclusivity and equity in these male-dominated fields of study and encouraged young women to break down gender barriers in STEM. More information about our education initiatives can be found below in the Education section.
Figure 3 - Home page of our Synthetic Biology educational website
Figure 4 - Participants in STEM Workshop extracting DNA from strawberries
Figure 5 - Virtual Lesson with Aboriginal Jianshi Jr. High Students
iGEMxSDG Challenge & Conference
Not only did we target Sustainable Development Goals through our own project, we took the sustainable development impact one step further by hosting an iGEMxSDG Impact Challenge and Conference to encourage all iGEM teams to take action on these urgent global challenges. SDGs were first introduced into the iGEM community in 2019 to spread awareness of the goals. This year, we took the furthered direct contribution towards these goals by focusing on action on top of promotion.
Because SDGs are universal goals, we not only focused on the relevance of SDGs to an individual team, but rather challenged teams to target these goals on a global level by making tasks for one another. Each teams’ tasks targeted specific subgoals for one or more SDGs. With the collaboration of completing tasks across different continents, we directly targeted SDG #17: Partnerships for the Goals. We further spread awareness of SDGs by encouraging teams to post SDGs relevant to their project on social media using a template we created and nominate other teams to participate. On September 18th, we held a virtual conference with all participating teams and discussed how we tackled the SDGs.
The first task we developed for other teams to accomplish targeted goal 4.5. We asked them to distribute our Synthetic Biology educational website to groups with limited access that can be found on our website to encourage the elimination of discrimination in education. This task was completed by iGEM Team Thessaly. One of the groups they sent our website to was Mrs. Chatzipli, a professor that teaches juveniles in the Volos Prison Facilities in Greece, who exclaimed how organized and informational our lessons were. She thought our website was a really great way to provide access to education around the world. Our second task targeted goal 3.4. We wanted other teams to put us in contact with an individual who regularly receives blood transfusions for their condition. We hope that by speaking with this individual, we can better understand the importance of transfusions and its role in preventing premature mortality.
Beyond targeting SDGs for our own project, we took the initiative to help other iGEM team’s tackle their SDGs as well. The first task we completed was for iGEM Team Calgary. Their project, Neocycle, focused on developing an innovative system for recovering rare earth elements from electronic waste. Their project targets SDG #7 Affordable and Clean Energy, as well as SDG #17 Partnerships for the Goals. The task that we completed was in response to goal #7.A: enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology by connecting the team with an electronic waste recycling facility in our region. Thus, we contacted SDTI, Taiwan's largest electronic waste recycling institute, and provided their website and contact information to Team Calgary. In the process of searching for electronic waste recycling facilities, we learned the importance of rare earth elements in electronic products and how important it is to promote sustainable recovery of these resources which directly targets goal 7.A. The second task we undertook was for iGEM Team Saint Joseph. Team Saint Joseph project, Cellulophile, focuses on degrading the top water pollutant, paper waste, with a genetically engineered enzyme to prevent water borne issues. Their project targeted SDG #6 which ensures clean water and sanitation. Their task, to distribute their google form about the use of biotechnology, directly targets goal #6.3, as we draw attention to the need to help people reach clean water, bioremediation, etc. We promoted their survey across all our social media accounts and verbally promoted the survey to students at our school. More information about the SDG conference will be listed below.
This event linked 26 teams across 16 countries together during pandemic times, and was highly praised by both the participating teams, as well as iGEM EPIC, who reached out to us in request to join the conference. For each participating team, we uploaded all their information onto our website by creating a website tab for each team. The website, which also includes more details about the challenge, can be found here. An introduction video for the challenge created by our team can be seen below.
Figure 6 - Diagram of extensive collaboration among 26 teams showing which teams completed which teams tasks.
Figure 7 - iGEMxSDG Impact Conference
Figure 8 - Members of our team presenting conference introduction slides
Figure 9 - Members of our team presenting our 4-minute presentation
iGEM EPIC, the Entrepreneurship Program Innovation Community that supports the development of iGEMs entrepreneurial community, reached out to us and requested to join our iGEM x SDG Impact Conference. The vision of the program is to become the driving force behind hundreds of SynBio based start-ups globally to help accelerate the transition to a more sustainable bioeconomy. They were very enthusiastic about our conference as they believe that infusing the spirit of entrepreneurship into feasible SynBio projects that work towards achieving the SDGs will help build a strong and sustainable SynBio startup ecosystem. They stated that projects orientated towards SDGs are in high demand in the entrepreneurship market as the problems of SDGs are universally recognized. The Head of Asia Pacific EPIC Committee, Onkar Date, joined our conference and gave a presentation on the iGEM EPIC program as well as their vision of incorporating SDGs into it. He further listened to presentations of several iGEM teams and engaged in discussions with us.
Figure 10 - iGEM EPIC presenting at the conference
Figure 11 - iGEM X SDG Impact Challenge statistics
Participating iGEM Teams:
KCIS_NewTaipei, Korea_HS, NTU-Singapore, IISER-Tirupati_India, Saint_Joseph, RUBochum, Stony_Brook, CCU_Taiwan, SHSID, NKCU_Tainan, ASIJ_Tokyo, Moscow_City, Thessaly, Sydney_Australia, William_and_Mary, NU_Kazakhstan, Aachan, MIT_MAHE, PuiChing_Macau Wageningen_UR, ATG X iGEM UMA, Open_Science_Global, Calgary, Tu_Darmstadt, Mingdao, TAS_Taipei
THE 17 GOALS. United Nations, sdgs.un.org/goals.
"SDGs .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform." United Nations. United Nations. Web. 19 Oct. 2021.
Towards 100% Voluntary Blood Donation: A Global Framework for Action. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2010. 2, Voluntary blood donation: foundation of a safe and sufficient blood supply. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK305666/