Team:ULaval/Human Practices

Human Practices
2020 was a challenging year. Due to COVID-19, the whole world had to adjust to a new lifestyle that came with its ups and downs. Considering this, we chose to do this project over the course of two years. Our Human Practices work reflects that, so, to understand how we got to our current work, we have to look back at what we did last year.
aSAP 1.0: 2020 Review
As explained in our Project Description, we chose to tackle maple syrup in 2020 because of our cultural attachment to maple syrup. That year, our Human Practices work consisted mostly of selecting the problem we wanted to solve within the industry and designing a responsible solution for it. In 2020, we, therefore, centered our efforts around the design of our project and adapting it to the maple production industry in Quebec, focusing on local needs and scientific expertise.

Our priorities


From a scientific standpoint, in order for us to help producers, we wanted to make sure we understood everything that went into creating quality maple syrup and the different problems that could occur. Only by knowing that could we find what problem we could realistically solve within this project.


We wanted to tackle something that people were currently stuck with and bring in a new solution that only people from our field could bring. We wanted to tackle a local problem here in Quebec that had not been addressed before and a solution using an uncommon technology in this field.


We also wanted to ensure that our project would be adapted to and wanted by the field we were creating it for.

Gathering knowledge

To ethically design a project that was as adapted as possible to the field we were making it for, we needed to gather much more information on the field. Here’s a quick rundown of what we did in 2020 to gain the knowledge that would guide our project’s choice and design:

  • We contacted Marie Filteau, a researcher at the Department of Food and Nutrition Sciences at Université Laval, to learn more about the science behind maple syrup: the microbiology of the syrup, the impact of seasonal change on the end product, the components that create the flavors of maple syrup, etc.

  • We got suggestions from Jean-François Sénéchal, a teacher in the Department of Philosophy at Université Laval, on what ethical considerations we could explore during our project.

  • We surveyed 50 maple syrup producers on their needs, priorities, interest in more research and openness to using a technological agent to improve quality in their products.

  • We discussed what current maple research was being done and how our project could fit into it with Luc Lagacé, a researcher at the main maple research lab in Quebec (Centre ACER) and with Vincent Poisson, a forest engineer that helps producers with technical aspects of maple syrup production.

  • We briefly informed ourselves about the legislation around maple syrup through contacting representatives for the Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation (MAPAQ), the government entity in charge of agriculture, fishing and food in Quebec.

  • We discussed the lack of current research on ropy syrup with representatives from the Producteurs et productrices acéricoles du Québec (PPAQ, French for Maple Producers of Quebec, a private maple syrup federation in Quebec).

  • We discussed our more tentative project ideas and solutions with Jean-Michel Lavoie, a professor at the University of Sherbrooke in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology Engineering, and found out about the challenges we would face.

These experts’ input on what to prioritise and what to look into is what brought our project to where it is in its 2021 edition: an enzymatic solution to transform ropy syrup from a food waste product into a useful base product that can be used in different industries.

aSAP 2.0: Progress in 2021
This year, our team looked at the Human Practices surrounding our project through a more concrete lens, focusing on the actual end product our treatment would create and how it would be perceived outside of the scientific world, both by authorities and consumers.

Our priorities

Tangible Impact

In 2021, a big focus of our project was creating a tangible impact: would our project be useful long-term for producers, or would it simply fall flat after iGEM ended? We believed that we needed to engage with the organizations most likely to be interested in the final project to ensure that we had a lasting impact on the industry we hoped to help.

Food production is highly regulated in Quebec. Long-term, through aSAP, using enzymatic methods to solve ropiness in maple syrup, we seek to impact Quebec’s legislation regarding the sale of derivative maple products.

Social Acceptability

Our other area of focus for our project in 2021 was the social acceptability of our project. We believe that the implementation of synthetic biology in the maple industry could have a positive influence in this area and in agri-food in general.

Speaking with experts, producers, and representatives of regulatory organizations helped us understand the issues in the maple industry. Last year, we came up with a solution; we only needed the public to know about it and to get its approval.

We already did a quick radio interview about the subject last year to raise awareness, but this year we also wanted to know what the public actually thought of what we were doing, while still continuing to raise awareness about the benefits of synthetic biology.

Gathering knowledge

To ensure that our emphasis on these guiding principles was well-founded, we turned to several different avenues.

Tangible Impact

First, to look into how realistic it would be to create a tangible impact on the industry with our project, we decided to talk to both the main maple producers’ association in Quebec, the PPAQ, and the government entity that regulates the agri-food industry. That way, we could have more information from both the target audience’s perspective and from the regulator's perspective.

Collaborations with the PPAQ

First, we engaged in several discussions about the feasibility of our project with the PPAQ. As we have said before, they manage a lot of producers (and their maple syrup) on a provincial level and are key actors in international maple syrup sales. With them, we covered several topics, going from maple syrup science to the more financial aspects behind such an industry.

To know if a tangible impact on the industry was even realistic, we had to learn about the reasoning behind the criteria used to classify ropy syrup as unsafe for consumption in the first place. Knowing only a part of the entire regulation process, the PPAQ suggested during our meeting this year that we talk with the MAPAQ to fully understand the motives behind the ban of this defective syrup. This led to our later meeting with this government entity, our second interaction with them since the start of aSAP in 2020.

Our meeting with the PPAQ also helped us take a more practical, industrial point of view into consideration: how would the ropy syrup actually be processed? How would our treatment actually work in the barrels? Would it create a homogenous end product by itself, or would it need to be mixed to work effectively on the entirety of the barrel’s contents? These questions made us realise that, in order to make a real impact as we hoped to, we still had more to think about when it came to the physical steps of the process, and how our treatment would react at each step.


Following this, we discussed the legal frame surrounding our project more in detail with representatives for the MAPAQ again to ensure that our goal for a tangible impact was realistic in the current legal context as well. Through this interview, we realised that we would have to ensure our project would be accepted by all maple syrup authorities since we can’t expect laws to change drastically within less than a year. Due to that fact, we also learned about other authorities we had not contacted yet or known about. This led to our better understanding of the way regulations are made, mainly that the MAPAQ is not necessarily the sole decision-maker regarding maple syrup. We would have to convince other actors of the feasibility and innovation of our project. However, the MAPAQ informed us that our project attracted their attention and that regulations on ropy maple syrup may need some updates since it hasn’t been touched in 40 years. That could help our project to become even more realistic and prevent producers from being punished by the production of ropy syrup.

Implementation of our project could also be possible with the help of the MAPAQ since they encourage and help new projects and enterprises to innovate and make the agri-food industry better in Quebec. That will push the fruition of the project to be led by existing labs or enterprises and genuinely help maple producers.

Lastly, the MAPAQ having different data on ropy syrup we haven’t seen before, it was confirmed that this defective syrup is a real problem that isn’t talked about enough or looked into much. Before that, we only had suspicions by talking to professionals and producers, but could not confirm anything because of the lack of proof and data.

Social Acceptability

For the social acceptability side of things, we conducted a survey with consumers on their feelings about a project like ours to find out if their priorities aligned with ours.


Université Laval is the oldest higher education institution in North America that teaches in French. Each year, more than 43 000 people register to take classes there. We wanted to reach out to every single one of them who was Canadian to know their opinion on our initiative. We created a survey with 18 questions distributed in three parts: one about iGEM and synthetic biology in general, one on the ropy syrup problem, and the last one on the acceptability of dextranase in ropy maple syrup. We received more than 350 responses from students or staff members of our university, but the truth is, we wanted to reach more…


From the 371 answers we received, 298 were used for the analysis of the consumer survey on the use of dextranase in ropy syrup. The questions were mostly yes or no questions or based on the Likert scale. Also, we allowed comments for each question.

After analyzing the survey, three main conclusions stuck out:

Regarding the importance of maple syrup in general:

a. 88% of respondents believe that the maple syrup industry in Quebec represents a fundamental pillar for the Canadian economy. This data is reinforced with the average consumption per consumer being 6 canes per year.

b. 97% of consumers are proud of maple syrup in Quebec. One can add as a reason, according to the respondents, that it is of very good quality thanks to the control by the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA).

Integrated Human Practices
Experts and producers

  • Last year, we discussed our intention of making a difference in the maple syrup industry with experts. We spoke about the causes and effects of flavor defects in maple syrup and it made us realize that we wanted to tackle one of them. To choose which one, we did a survey for maple producers and discussed the pertinence of working on a flavor defect that was not actively researched: ropy syrup.

  • Concerning the technical aspect of our project, we used scientific knowledge to engineer our dextranase and make it work. We based our experiments on existing protocols like the Nelson-Somogyi method, but we also created our own with the help of teachers and research professionals.


Our collaboration with the PPAQ led to us developing a concrete approach that would bring our final product closer to being actively used:

  • We studied the microbiote of ropy maple syrup and ways of removing possible toxins (see our Microbiology page)

  • Exploring the laws and regulations

  • Planning our approach with the MAPAQ

  • We looked into the processing and homogeneity of the product aSAP would create (see our Modeling page)

  • We looked into getting approval for our methods and product from relevant organizations

Meetings with both organizations also helped us set more realistic final goals for our project. Here are some examples:

  • Deciding to specifically target ropy syrup that is already stored, in order to keep the rest of the maple syrup production as enzyme-free as possible, a concern that was expressed to us by the PPAQ.

  • Deciding that we wanted our dextranase to be considered a food additive after learning from both organisations about the strict regulation surrounding maple syrup (requiring it to be 100% natural for it to be considered syrup).

  • We clarified our project’s intentions with the PPAQ and the MAPAQ after hearing about their concerns about it.

  • The concerns and strict regulations of these organisations also led to us exploring other avenues for aSAP, like using its manageable end product in the cosmetic industry or the animal food industry as a compromise to ensure a realistic implementation of our technology Through them, we understood that the revalue of waste was more important than the industry where it could be sold.

  • We put emphasis in our consumer survey to call our end product a “derivative product” in response to what we learned with the MAPAQ and PPAQ about the strict definition of the name “maple syrup” (100% pure, additive-free). Since our goal is to have a tangible impact on the industry and to give a use to a wasted product, avoiding damaging the image of the industry through our actions is essential.

  • We decided to hold back on trying to create an edible end product within this year because of our discussions with these organizations. We prioritized showing the efficacy of our dextranase before using it or commercializing it in order to avoid giving them false hopes.


  • According to the consumers survey, we confirmed that consumers actually care about the environmental issues that are present in the maple syrup industry. They are ready to learn about our dextranase and even to make some concessions by buying products (not necessarily edible) made with ropy syrup treated by dextranase. Also, the majority of our survey respondents affirmed that maple syrup had a special place both as a Canadian pride and as a pillar for our economy. This helped confirm that our project was actually useful and worth working on. It also confirms that the value we chose to prioritize made sense for other Canadians.

  • The survey for producers supports our choice of working on ropy syrup which can be a recurrent problem that will worsen in the future due to climate changes. This is how we chose which needs to prioritize.

  • Both surveys clearly conveyed our true intentions to its audience without hiding anything. We made sure to clarify any misunderstandings to ensure a genuine communication with our target audience and our future partners.


In sum, we used many ways to ensure that our project has and will continue to have a good impact on the world and on the specific communities we hope to help. Going from gathering the knowledge to know the needs and priorities of those in the field, to actually adapting our project to those needs and priorities: we put in work to close the loop.

To close it in an even more airtight way, we think it would be interesting to discuss the prospects of aSAP with actual companies that could be interested in a sugary base product like the one we're aiming for. Maybe, in a couple of years, the regulations concerning maple syrup might be revised and adapted to allow for even more synbio innovation in the field. Maybe, a few years from now, both producers and consumers we reached out to will be using products made from a maple derivative product created with our dextranase.

Either way, we know that aSAP has the potential to make a real change in the maple syrup industry, giving value back to a waste product for which no other solution has been found so far.

How do we know this? We checked with those to whom it mattered most.


Gouvernement du Québec. (2021, April 19). Production de Sirop d'érable (acériculture). Gouvernement du Québec. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from