Team:UNAM-Genomics Mexico/HumanPractices/LawProposal







This page contains the information about “Hydrobium etli goes Cuatzo”. This project was born thanks to the fact that this year our team is an association between the UNAM Genomics undergraduates as well as fellow students, also at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, from the Latin American Studies Undergraduate Programme.


As we raised our ideas for what would become our 2011 iGem project, Hydrobium etli, it was quite clear that an interest to develop a project with the ability to improve our immediate surroundings was present. Namely, a situation in our country that could take advantage of Synthetic Biology.

Hydrobium etli goes Cuatzo represents the effort of building an interdisciplinary iGem project, because it aims to take the Synthetic Biology project “Hydrobium etli” and place it under the context of Mexico's current rural situation.

This area of the project vouches for the incorporation of new Synthetic Biology proposals, such as Hydrobium etli, as potential solutions to the necessities in the indigenous communities of our country. The posibility to supply environmentally-friendly energy to this localities, together with the energetic diversification it would imply, are the two objectives chosen to explore.

Among the results of this intiative you will find a document containing the analysis of the current mexican legal framework on GMOs, as well as the panorama on energetic matters of our country. Through this paper, it is concluded that the rural situation of our country could take advantage of a project like Hydrobium etli.


Another fundamental section of Hydrobium etli goes Cuatzo is the diffusion of the Hydrobium etli project, which is where it takes its name from. Cuatzoquitengo or “Cuatzo” is an indigenous community that belongs to the mixteco linguistic group of the country. It is located in the Malinaltepec municipality of the Guerrero State, right in the middle of la Sierra (the mountain system). Cuatzo was the place elected to the field work part of the project.

The two goals of this field work were, first, to take the information of the Hydrobium etli project to the people of this community. And second, to collect their opinion on the posibility of carrying it out. Electric energy is a public fundamental service nowdays but in Mexico we have many communities like Cuatzo where sumministrating this service is a challenge for the government, Hydrobium etli goes Cuatzo is thus, a quite relevant approach to a social issue present accross our whole country.



Placing the project under a relevant context

The UNAM-Genomics-Mexico 2011 team is formed by undergrads from both scientific and humanistic programs. We understand that Synthetic Biology is an evergrowing field and that it holds many challenges; but the outlook is quite promising: its ability to develop applications with the potential to solve problems posed by disease, environmental deterioration, and scarcity among many others, is overriding.

The development of Mexico and its international vinculation (specially with other countries from Latin America) beg for a systematic analysis of the cultural, political, and economical problems of the country. The Latin American Studies Undergraduate Programme is an interdisciplinary one seeking to understand the historical development and the contemporary problems in Mexico.

Mexico is a developing country with a large population and a vast cutural and ethnical diversity. This population is distributed across the whole country and the economical and social situation in which it is, presents itself in a quite wide range. The development of Science and Technology in Mexico is not as abundant as in other countries, which is concerning by itself; We also face a breach between scientists and society. We firmly believe that the way we have worked on Hydrobium etli sets a precedent for both scientists and humanists working together to achieve a common goal: constructing development of a country through approaches like Synthetic Biology.

Maturing the Idea

Ever since we started to concieve this Human Practices project, the objective was clear: Introduce the project "Hydrobium etli" as a sustainable option.

Through the whole summer and development of the project we held meetings to discuss the direction of the Human Practices. The social dimension of the Hydrobium etli project has really evolved. We wondered and discussed he best way to take this project to the right and relevant people. First, we wanted to start changing the law right away to implement projects like Hydrobium etli to a developing country like Mexico. Then while investigating the legal framework, we came to realise that it would be more relevant to first, go directly to a community with the potential to take on a project like Hydrobium etli, and then eventually with that experience as a background, start proposing the proper modifications to the law. Since then it has become a major objective to highlight and start to build what must become an integral and profound relationship between science and the society.

The Document


Mexico consolidated, since the first decades of the 21st century, as an important oil producer at the global level. This natural resource has marked the historical evolution of the country, conditioned the economy, defined great part of the political debate and promoted the very construction of different development models. Mexico is today an oil country, the great networks that weave in its interior answer to such dynamic; the commercial balance, the public expenditure, the educational investment, the complex benefits system, the social capital, the foreign policy and even the sociability patterns.

In spite of the scientific and technological advances of the developed world, that have propitiated a severe questioning to the functioning of the international order with regard to energetic, just a little has been really modified with respect to this order. This is true mainly because the exploitation of the non renewable natural resources has produced, along with other variables, negative effects in the environment and in the way with which the Earth system works. Today we know that the climate change and the degradation and impoverishment of the natural environment is a tangible reality. However, there is an endless demand for fossil combustibles.

Science on the other hand, through its multiple disciplines, has participated in the generation of many and better technologies in benefit of the environment in two senses: to counteract the negative effects of the environmental degradation that already exists and to enable the emergence of new paths for the sustainable energetic functioning of the energy industry.

According to a study made by the World Banki (World Bank; 2006), extreme poverty is principally, though not exclusive, a rural phenomenon. Although in the last two decades there has been a significant advance – specially in comparison with the 1980 decade – in the health, educational and social infrastructure domains; the admission and the access to these services are found assume the two more profound conflicts of the Mexican rural communities. This does not implies the non existence of urban poverty nor the full access to these services in the cities; the rural problem increases when the access to these services is in extreme limited and the admission lacks of forms of regional reproduction and integration.

Current Panorama On Energetic Production In Mexico

As of the 21st century, Mexico stands as a country without a central conjoint policy regarding the energetic production. Oil and natural gas, and in general all other energy sources, are variables that determine the macroeconomic growth of any country, and by so, deserve to be treated as proprietary subjects in an independent manner by the federal administration. Hydrocarbons, in the milieu of a mainly exporter country, must be protected by legislations that compel the efficiency in the activity regarding the extraction, production and delivery of these resources, protected by laws that avoid public squander, that provide fiscal stimulus for the dynamic of the economy and that promote the generation of highly productive industrialization chains.

Mexico counts today with 12.9 billions of oil barrels, approximately 1.1% of the world's reserves. Our country has the third most important oil reservoir in North America - this one represents 5% of the world's reserves – and the second most significant of Latin America, that counts with approximately 8.6% of the world's oil reserves. Mexico suministers 1.5 from the 21 millions of oil barrels that requires the United States of America daily. The proved hydrocarbon reservoirs decayed a 47% in 2000-2006ii. The favorable set of circumstances in the international climate in that period – the rise in the oil price, the growing economy of the United States, the increase of the PIDIREGAS fundsiii and the rise of the remittances (Marcos; 2008) - promoted the overexploitation of the oil reservoirs. The objective was to raise the fiscal revenues, by means of an excessive tributary regime, in order to maintain a commercial balance less prone to loss guided by the exportations increment.

Despite the drastic plunge the hydrocarbon extraction industry had, in 2009 the fossil combustibles participation in the national energy consumption was of a strapping 89%iv. Meanwhile, the renewable combustibles and residues that constitute the solid biomass, the liquid biomass, the biogas and the industrial residues together did not get to more than 4.8% of the energy consumption for the same periodv. Clean energy, energy not coming from hydrocarbons whose generation does not produce carbon dioxide and that includes the hydroelectric, nuclear, geothermic and solar energies, among others, only conformed approximately 6.2% of the energy consumption.

Currently, the national electrical supply is a service provided by a state company called CFEvi. Such entity must then supply, manage and export electricity to the whole of the national territory.

Though the electrical system attempts to diversify, with the firm objective to achieve an energetic security program, there are left two national challenges, as pointed out by Elías Ayub (Valdivia; 2008): a) The investment of strong capitals into the electric system, at least 5 billion dollars annually; and b) The investment in research projects in relationship with hydrocarbons and electricity, supporting and encouraging the creation of new technologies to productively incorporate new forms of clean and renewable energies.

Mexico contributes with roughly 3% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world, being the Latin American member with the greater proportion contributor (Cárdenas; 2008). Within the GHG generated by Mexico in 2007, carbon dioxide occupied the first place, with almost 4.5 metric tons per capita, due mostly to the fossil combustibles consumption. Therefore, the support to other ways of generating energy must be prioritized.

Case Study

The community chosen for the case study was Cuatzoquitengo in the state of Guerrero. We have devoted a whole section of this page to the description of this experience (below).

Cuatzoquitengo is a little village from Malinaltepec, entity of the Mexican State of Guerrero- in the south region of the country- and part of the Sierra Mixteca region in Guerrero. The village has a population of 1,618 habitantsi. The local language is the mixtecoii and has few Spanish speakers. In this community was conducted a field study aimed knowing people opinion about the possibility of incorporating a project capable of facilitating the provision of public service of electrical energy. Bringing conventional electricity to these areas is a challenge.

The community has as main activity subsistence planting and a large part of resources come from remittance of young people leaving in search of employment, it can be national or international migration. The initiative of this youth is the one that has allowed in the last years an accelerated change in the life quality of the community. As much of the indigenous communities in Mexico, Cuatzoquitengo has problems by the owning of the land with neighbors communities. These problems have caused the suspension of electrical service by the intentional flock generators.

Taking into account Hydrobium Etli future project bet is to cover the shortage of energy in rural communities, either if it is produced by social conflicts or by being marginalized regions, Hydrobium Etli serves as a real alternative for communities with social similarities as the ones in Cuatzoquitengo. It would then have to establish a plan for implementing the new technology in the community, achieve to promote local economic activities, integrating the region in turn, significantly improvement of the life quality and promote rural development in marginal areas in Mexico.


A very important feature in our Document related to the case study is the analysis of the ground in the area of Cuatzo.

We took samples of the ground to test the Nitrogen levels on the soil. This was done because one of the conditions that could have an impact on the functionality of the project is that that the land must have low levels of nitrogen, allowing the appropriate growth and development symbiotic system.

The sample was collected in a 10 to 30 cms depth, because it is the level that the plant needs to be to grow and to obtain nutrients. The selected ground for the sampling was around 100 meters. It was land that no one had used to grow crops in a long time, thus allowing the measurements to be accurate and representative of the region's soil state.

To carry out the sampling of the ground we digged a 30 by 30 centimeters groove and we removed the a portion of soil from the interior to avoid possible pollution that coud come from the surface soil.

The samples were deposited in a labeled jar with the sample number, the depth and the date. We made three samples and set them to the lab.


Summing-up, Mexico is in a pressing need for answers. Our deep dependence on fossil fuels for power consumption proves that fact. The answer shall not be only immediate but also holistic. It will have to be structure then as a State policy priority. The success or total failure of the national development model of any economy depends strictly on the political capacity of its leaders to draw long-term power-sufficiency routes. The contemporary power scheme will only see major shifts as long as it bets, systematically, for renewable, clean and eco-friendly technologies that can be, above all, productive.

The lack of energy security will translate, necessarily, in the lack of sustainable development. No wonder why, in this research, we intent to bring up the importance of power diversification through the incorporation of renewable power sources. This type of energetic perform as sustainable mechanisms, that is because they not only search for environmental care but are alternative income and job sources, meaning social welfare.

In the specific case of Hydrobium Etli project, which supports bringing power lines to marginalized communities, renewable power sources turn out to be rural development driving force creating small cooperatives that improve life quality standards. This is given not only because of the job creation scheme but because of the saving on the power consumption expenditure.

On one hand, the proposal here presented, from Synthetic Biology, shows its commitment with society when it becomes a juridical feasible project under Mexican institutional framework, the only politically possible road of structural shift. On the other hand, the community legal body along with the joint management and democratic involvement mechanisms supports the actual productive implementation possibility. Hydrobium Etli is a major effort in a real sustainable construction of a renewed Mexico.

Last but not least, we are completely positive with the study case here presented. It proved that a local indigenous community such as Cuatzoquitengo´s is completely receptive and open to new technologies, improving, significantly, quality life standards.


For download please click rigth and choose "save" to the desired folder.

Case Study: Cuatzoquitengo


In our first meeting with one of the community professors, he expressed the true problems that electric energy represent in the rural regions of the country. The cultural diversity of Mexico has propitiated that the land tenure among communities represents a constant problem and this in turn provokes quarrels that end by promoting electricity outage that last weeks, road closures, problems among the communities that take years to be solved; it is true, however, that providing public services to the Sierra represents by itself a great challenge. A project correctly oriented that permits the communities access to their own electricity supply could solve some of the problems here stated. Of course this is about a project that still remains in the research step, but it is important to reaffirm that it is about a project with a social potential against the rural communities reality and their needs in our country.

The rural communities are restless, participative and foster the dialogue about problems in an updated manner. In Cuatzoquitengo, we found people with full awareness of their environment, their needs, and the interest to seek appliance, in a short term period, of projects that could contribute to the development of the community; people in Cuatzo is more than willing to participate in this type of dialoge and to express their opinion and information that could make possible a project such as Hydrobiumetli. But mostly, people who appreciate their opinion to be heard and taken into account.


Community Outreach

To make the spread, our first contact was with the Assembly’s main committee, who helped us to contact with teachers considered more qualified for helping to transmit our proposal, including the advantages and disadvantages of synthetic biology represented by the Hydrobium Etli project.

After hearing the proposal from the teachers, a meeting was called where they gave us the opportunity of address to the communal authorities this with the purpose of telling all the details of the project and listen to the opinions. By one hand the presentation was conducted by illustrations and schemes of the bean plant, and by other the implementation of the project. The participations were very clear, “while there is a benefit, we accept the project”, commented a member of the assembly. The acceptance of possible future project was unanimous. Nevertheless there were questions and doubts in relation with the environmental theme. “Would there be possible contamination to other cops of the modified bacterium?”, “What cares should be done with something genetically modified?”. Most of the people expressed interests for actual problems afflicting humanity in relationship with the environment and they thought that searching for eco-friendly alternatives as Hydrobium Etli showed the concerned of scientific community for the future of rural communities.

After completing the assembly we received some individual comments, which expressed approval because of the information brought to the community about the new technologies and the way it can be related in a positive way with their activities. One man was ready to show in his house the crop and the iba chichi plant- bean in mixteco- that they usually sow. Such was the degree of acceptance in this man that he offered his house in case of a pilot was implemented.

Given the lack of assistance of the community women to the assembly, we headed to their homes. We decided to perform the same explanation and record the process. At first they were insecure and shy, but it just took a few minutes so they could start to formulate interesting questions such as the trees possibilities to contaminate themselves or the potential reverberations on the bean crops. Nevertheless the precise and obvious wondering on the research project and its consequences, they, as well as the community male leaders, showed themselves exited and receptive.

The main purpose of taking the project and explain it to the community of Cuatzoquitengo was the promotion of Synthetic Biology in a place that meets the projects requirements, a place where the scientific breakthroughs are able to take part in society in a benign way


Living the Experience

Our Testimonial

We were anxious to arrive to la Sierra, the place where the community we had chosen was located; was an impressive place. It seemed to belong to another reality far away from the city chaos. The silence was overwhelming, you could breathe tranquility, people greeted in their own language -mixteco1-, children played among the houses and among the maize fields, the wind was cold and the roads were muddy... but we arrived and we were pleasantly surprised.

*Nataly Álvarez Sánchez: Hydrobium etli goes Cuatzo Testimonial

Going to La Sierra in Guerrero is an experience that can teach you a lot from the reality the indigenous communities live in. We were confronted by the sight of the marginal poverty these communities live in: many children with naked feet can be seen, people travel very long distances by feet, and health services are pretty basic. The scenary that can be seen while arriving tu Cuatzo leaves you breathless, beautiful landscapes inform you of the little urbanization that exists in Cuatzo.

It was very interesting, challenging, and mostly rewarding to have the oportunity to communicate and work together with the people of Cuatzo to convey the community a scientific project like Hydrobium etli to them. They taught us some words in their native indigenous language, mixteco, and that really helped us to bond with them. Learning about the way they live, their usual activities and their traditions opened the door to deliver the information related to Hydrobium etli, as well as obtaining feedback from them. Something that I will never forget about the experience is knowing how the project could actually help them improve their lives.

As a humanities student I feel very proud of the task we acomplished through this case study experience: to form a link between the people that Synthetic Biology could help find solutions, and the people who are doing Synthetic Biology.

*Paloma Ximena Velázquez Ríos: Hydrobium etli goes Cuatzo Testimonial

My participation in the journey to the Coatzoquitengo community was higly enriching, it gave a whole spectrum of contrasting, profound emotions and feelings.

As is it natural, when I first knew about this participation I felt anguished and anxious, as this was to be a journey to an isolated community, deep within the Sierra, where the means of comunication are scarse. Besides, I confronted problems that I hadn't had to face before, like the fact that I had to communicate to people that spoke a different language and that practiced radically different traditions.

The landscape that I got to know was very overwhelming, but nothing can be compared with some of the moments that this experience gave me... The mindfulness to certain situations, like a bucket of cold water, that these realities made you adquire... as you live them as never before.

One of these moments was a stop we had to do in the middle of the transportation towards the village, when we were already inside the Sierra; it was at a little food stand in the middle of nowhere. We stopped there to have breakfast, it was very cheap (approximately 10 pesos per person) and very tasty. In a corner, a family, both parents and a little kid, were apprehensively eating. When they finished, the woman that attended the little stand went to pick up their dishes and told them that they didn't have to pay. I then realized that these people didn't have resources to eat by themselves, and as I knew the ciphers (In Mexico, the half of the population does not gain enough to afford what has been stablished as “the basic products a family consumes daily”), you are never as conscious of this truth as when you have something to eat in your plate and someone else does not. When having something to eat in your plate everyday makes you feel guilty.

This reality becomes more penetrating when you understand the profound community sense of this people, that is willing to share the little or the much they have to their community. This sense of community becomes a pleasant surprise to experience, as example, the meetings in which the whole community dialogues in search of solutions for each of their problems.

Maybe one of the moments that gave me a major reflexion was when we had to explain the benefits of the creation of a cooperative to begin the project with, one of the presents told me -”Yes, but we already know that, that's how we make things here...”- I felt bad, asking myself who was I with slender studies on the subject, to go and talk to them of something they practiced daily.

One of the biggest obstacles we had to face was the communitacion issue, as we didn't just talk different languages, but a whole bunch of distinct experiences. That is the reason we made special emphasis to our preparation to explain the subject in a very careful manner, thinking in the adequate words and in the most didactic methods to make accessible our explanation. It was pleasant to be able to communicate with them, to listen to their doubts, the opinons that emerged, and above all the illusions the project created to them.

I consider the project Hydrobium etli a project bespoke to the rural communities, specially to all of them that have been historically marginated, as this promises to be not just a food supply, but a source of nutrients to their lands, and an electrical energy source, covering in that way two fundamental axes of the sustainable development.

Listening the Community members

In this section you will find videos featuring members of Cuatzo expressing their needs and concerns towards the Hydrobium etli project:

  • We have been without electricity, without telephone service, without media, because of energy lack… We would be glad if this experiment come, to see in which things it is going to benefit or to damage us. Agustin Hernandez, community member.

  • If you can prove me that this experiment is really a form to obtain electricity with the little plant, it is going to benefit everyone. We are not going to need the Comision Federal de Electricidad help anymore. Angelina Rodriguez, community member.

‎*What I would really like to know, and I hope you deliver this message to the people working on the scientific project, is to what distance would we have to plant the bean plants from our homes. Because that's a concern we all have. How many meters would be required from our doors at one side of the house for the energy to arrive to our homes. There are people in our village that possess more space, ther are others that have less; some already have plants or trees outside their doors. What would be the ideal distance to plant these modified bean plants in our backyards to our homes.

‎*Angelina Rodríguez: Is there any special care we would have to have to the plants? Do we have to fumigate them? Really, that's the other question I was making you a while ago. When we plant the little bean plant, after about, hum, I think in... in one month, some plagues start appearing, so my father fumigates the plants, that's when it starts growing and start flourishing; I have this question, do we have to fumigate the plants even so?

‎*...Huh... are we going to be able to use any plant bean that we use here? (unintelligible). Here the bean plants sprout of different colors, there are different types of small beans, and there are also the big ones, called the “oyocote”. I mean, are we going to be able to use all these variants?

Notes for Project Implementation

In certain ways, the social success of scientific innovations depends on the implementation policies. It is, indeed, the implementation phase the most important one of the whole process, mainly because it links the scientific breakthrough with society, people in actual interaction with science. This fact will definitely influence the public opinion about science.

Is not our goal to present a detailed study on implementation and execution issues, but we do need to outline the main aspects of the project in order to experience a positive impact on society. Although is not an actual requirement, the fact that Cuatzoquitengo carries out functions with community structure (we will referee to community as a legal body enabled by the Mexican constitution) opens a wide range of options. On the contrary, if the community does not hold a community organization, the creation of a joint management decision-making instrument is essential for positive results for local residents, the implementation from above would provoke only exclusion and depriving patterns. Holding community structure, in Cuatzoquitengo already are joint management and consensual decision-making tools.

In order to fully benefit the entire community and balance the use of this technology, it’s important to encourage democratic mechanisms, openness and community involvement such as political joint management. The original social organization of this community provides an ideal framework: the elected local authorities decide jointly with society. Because of the reported gain we see on this joint management is that we propose, as the best implementation way, the creation of a whole-structure cooperative, according to the legal requirements of self-sufficiency.

The positive consequences of a legal association, such as the latter, are quite clear. Instead of being consumers of the state-owned company CFE, according to the legal road, the community will be the electric power producers, consumers and beneficiaries at the same time. The cooperativism permits, by its original principles, the horizontal participation of its members, something that propels democratic coexistence in joint development.

Also, mechanisms promoting community autonomy will be proposed. Unfortunately, we are aware of dependence created by technology. In order to avoid that, we defend the possibility of a promoter’s system training. The institution that implements the program will have to train a certain amount of people, the ones in charge of running the project. They must be, at the time, obliged to train the community members and find the most adequate of them, so they can pass the knowledge to the next generation and reproduce effectively the process. As far as possible, members of the community will have to deepen the understanding of the project studying academic programs that helps strengthen the continuity of the innovation. This way of things, the proper tools would have been delivered to the community in order to achieve power sufficiency and dependence of federal institutions.

We do not intent to close dialogue between the local developer institution and the community, but we do try to counteract the institutions possible monopoly by giving the community the needed knowledge and know-how to reduce dependence on institutional innovation.

These pointings allow us to outline the project not only in terms of sustainable rural development, but also in terms of economic, environmental and social benefits to the community. At the time of bringing electric power to marginalized settlements in Mexico that have been deprived from it, the project proposes itself as a democracy developer, as long as it is implemented by horizontal involvement mechanisms.

As a final remark it is impotant to stress that the country needs a mayor interaction between sciences and the society. To make this bond between Synthethic Biology by means of the Hydrobium etli project and an indigenous population has been a demanding task, but it has also been an unique and necessary experience to us because there probably does not exist better way to make scientific difussion other than really promote a dialogue among science concerns and the people concerns.