Team:HKU-HKBU/Human Practice


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Division for Human Practices Advance

Aims and Objectives

Not only is synthetic biology an emerging discipline within the scientific academia, it also has profound impacts on our society. Our division aims at addressing these issues through a diverse range of strategies. To start with, we aim at assessing society’s perception and understanding on synthetic biology and relevant biotechnological disciplines. After the assessment, we also aim at informing the public on the basic principles of the discipline, its recent advancements and prospects for future development.


Several activities were carried out in our Human Practices Advances Project. We invited about 160 undergraduate students for an online questionnaire about their attitudes and knowledge towards synthetic biology. After finishing the questionnaire, the students were directed to our informative educational website about synthetic biology. We also interviewed Drs. JD Huang and JJW Wang, two of our advisors, on their valuable experience of being a scientist. Moreover, the daily lab work of one of our postgraduate students, Lei Shi, was recorded and presented as the "Life of a Synthetic Biologist" story, with the goal of presenting scientific research as an attractive career. Finally, to disseminate the knowledge of synthetic biology, we provided lectures and lab visits for secondary school students. The following are the details of the activities:


How much of synthetic biology do Hong Kong people understand? We decided to start with university students – our closest counterparts. A questionnaire was set up on the web for students from different universities in Hong Kong. The idea is propagated through Facebook where thousands of students are invited to complete the questionnaire and also through class visits within the University of Hong Kong. We aim at exploring the relationship between the few factors: current field of study, attitude towards synthetic biology and understanding in synthetic biology. In-depth analysis on these themes and individual items has been carried out toward the end of the questionnaire.

In the aspect 'degree of understanding in synthetic biology', participants, upon finishing the questionnaire, are shown the correct answers to the factual questions of the questionnaire (e.g. True or false: All cells have nucleus). We trust that their understanding towards synthetic biology would be enhanced on completion of the questionnaire.

As of 12th October, more than 160 college students drawing from more than 10 academic disciplines have already filled in our questionnaire. Interesting findings are presented here. Our questionnaire has been listed on the search results from Google, reflecting the popularity of our questionnaire:

In our questionnaire, opinions on the issue of safety and security of synthetic biology, such as the possibility of allowing genetically engineered organisms to be released to the wild, were collected. This fulfills the requirement of the Human Practices Advance Award.

HKU-HKBU human practice google.png

Educational Website

We understand that mere description and assessment is insufficient if we are to substantively raise our peers’ understanding in synthetic biology, so we have decided to adopt more proactive measures to achieve such aims. The centre of this attempt is an educational website – Information page on synthetic and systems biology – hosted by Dr Brian Wong from HKU’s Department of Biochemistry. All questionnaire participants will be directed to the webpage.

The webpage is broadly divided into the following few sections:


Structural overview of our website

About us

Introduction to our team and individual team members

Contact us

Contact details of the webmaster and team leader

Introduction to Synthetic Biology

This is the single-most important part of the entire website, comprising more than 10,000 words. It aims at giving a conceptual overview on key topics related to synthetic biology. It is subdivided into the following sections:

  • Brief introduction to synthetic biology
  • Basic biochemistry (Cell architecture, DNA, genes, chromosomes, plasmids, central dogma, protein synthesis and genome)
  • Microbiology (Bacteriology, virology, reproduction and immunology)
  • Technical procedures (PCR, transformation, blotting, minipreparation, cell and viral culture)
  • Applications of synthetic biology (Insulin production, GM food and gene therapy)
  • More about synthetic biology (How the discipline is born, biobricks, registry of parts, minimal genome project, bioinformatics and systems biology)

The articles are written by our four members in simple English with an intention to avoid jargon in order to allow maximal understanding by laymen and non-scientists. Images and illustrations are abundant.

Life of a synthetic biologist

What a scientist actually does is their daily lives remain a mystery to the majority of the public, and thus the appearance of nerdy or Frankenstein stereotypes. In this section, we provide an accurate account of the life of both a senior and a junior synthetic biologist, through shadowing them for a whole day. This would certainly be of interest to aspiring scientists. The public may also take this opportunity to develop more appreciation on scientists whose work essentially underlies our modern way of life.

Lecturing to secondary school students

Many a time we see that the antagonistic attitude many people hold towards synthetic biology arise from inaccurate or insufficient understanding on the subject itself. We noticed that the current science/biology curriculum in Hong Kong fails to catch up with the cutting-edge technology and advancements developed by scientists of our day, particularly in the field of synthetic biology. We therefore seek to eliminate this misunderstanding from its roots through education of the youth. Dr William Mak, formerly of the Genome Research Centre at HKU and currently teacher at Ho Yu College/Primary School, has pioneered the establishment of a biotechnology laboratory in secondary schools. We will present an introductory talk on both synthetic biology and our work at his school and possibly others.

Lab visits for secondary school students

The education system in Hong Kong prides itself over the high degree of knowledge and competence instilled in its students in science subjects. Hong Kong students often rank among the best in the international assessments concerned. Undoubtedly there will be students interested in a future career in academic scientific research. By organizing visits to the laboratory we aim at giving secondary school students insight on the work of scientists so as to identify and nurture future scientists.

Team Members


Yan-Lin Li MB


Felix Wong MB

Raymond Yip BBioChem

Paul Tse BChem