Team:EPF-Lausanne/Social overview



Human Practices Project


Human Practices explore how synthetic biology meets issues in safety, security, health, and ethics through the design of novel engineered constructs. This field also studies the repercussions that advances in synthetic biology might have on economy, politics, and culture. Synthetic biology is a field of striking new discoveries, but new science needs new regulation and there is a necessity to have basis of ethics, laws and communication to control the development of this new research area.

Aim of the project

The aim of this part of the project is to communicate about the research done by the EPFL iGEM team, in the context of synthetic biology. The major challenge here is to overcome the existing gap between scientific research and how the general public sees and interprets it. Indeed, we observed that many people have a feeling of fear when they hear the words "cloning", GMO, or biotechnology, and this without them knowing exactly what they stand for. There seems to be a communication problem between scientists and the people from other fields, and this is reflected for example in votation results here in Switzerland. Our aim is not to convince that scientific research in Life Sciences is harmless, but we want to inform the public, to enable them to form their own opinion on the subject.

How to do it ?

Our work can be divided into three main parts.

First, we wanted to have the opinion of people. Especially we wanted to know what they knew about synthetic biology and what they think of it. In order to achieve this we conducted a survey : Survey. We wanted to know if a negative feeling about cloning could be associated with a non-scientific background for example, or if a lack of knowledge about general biological facts would be associated the age of the person etc.

In the second part of our project, we wanted to communicate with people through other ways than an electronical form to fill. We did some Talks to different groups of people. We went to high schools to talk to young students, gather their opinion and give them a short presentation of what synthetic biology is, what we are doing in our lab and what cloning is for example. We also did some talks to scientists, in order to inform other people what we are doing and what iGEM is about.

The last part of this project was a media work : Media. There, the idea was only to communicate to "normal people" that we are doing a project and what it is about. iGEM isn't very well-known in the EPFL community (we are only the second team to participate) and in the region, so we thought it was important to share the knowledges with other people by writing some articles in newspaper for example.


If we take together what we have observed in the three parts of the project, we have the following conclusions :

  • iGEM isn't known at all at the EPFL (even in the Life Sciences community)
  • Synthetic biology is often associated with textile or plastic... It means people don't really know what it is.
  • We were sometimes very surprised by the opinion of people. We also believed in some cliché but the survey proved some were wrong !
  • We have communicated through newspapers, talks and mails about iGEM and synthetic biology. We truly hope that at least some people now know what it is and that we contributed to inform them and reduce the gap between the scientific community and the rest of the world !!!

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