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Meeting of Young Minds

We are now reporting live from the “Meeting of the Young Minds”, we are going to present it in a pros and cons form. Rd will designate pro-synthetic biology viewpoints and green viewpoints against synthetic biology:


Everyone has one final sentence. Only few keep it to one.

MOYM is over, I hope You enjoyed our coverage! Tune back in tomorrow for the iGEM presentations.


What is important is that we need good education and publicity about new technologies like synthetic biology. Mr Expert, iGEM HQ has said that for quite some time (years).


OOhh, expert analysis coming up!


I’m not necessarily against changes genes in humans.


Yeah, animals without nervous systems would be acceptable for food production.


Would you feel that it is okay to breed pigs without brains for use in research, so that they won’t feel pain.


If You look at the effects of these technologies, changing nature is not new. Synthetic biology is not different from traditional breeding for example – it is optimizing the fruits of nature.

How You can interprete that into wanting to modify the human genome is a bit beyond me.


Would you say that is it fair that a drug, discovered in the USA using synbio, curing HIV falls under american patent law and as such many african countries can’t afford it. [Bad wording by me, sorry]


The Dodo was said to be very tasteful, especially with southern pepper… We have come quite far with the discussion, now that we are discussing the resurrection of the Dodo.


Statement: By definition the assumption that the status quo is the safest is flawed, so why cling to it?


Statement: Synthetic biology is a wonderful technology, but going too fast. We do NOT need SynBio to solve our problems like world hunger, fuel problems and others.


Statement: Nature does not need improvement through synthetic biology. First improve humans.


Life itself does not carry specific moral weight, but when the cells come together in a form that feels pain things change. If we banish research on animals, where should we stop? It is too easy to say that they are nothing more than a machine.


Life in itself has not a special moral state deviating from other machines. Life does not differentiate bacterial machines from other stuff like nanomachines. The question is can we patenting life? The young democrats don’t think there are any problems with that.


Stetement: A cell is nothing more than a machine, which we are allowed to modify and create.


Break is over. Next up is Ownership. Is there a difference between manipulating plants, birds and man?


Break time for now.


The politicians ask the Freiburg team how they want to enforce their synthetic biology oath. They have to admit that many countries would not agree to it and that even a lot of labs have expressed their disagreement. For the first time in the debate the scientists are on the defensive.


We’re gonna have a break of half an hour. After the break we’re gonna talk about Ownership.


iGEMers point out that the balance of nature is already destroyed, with phenomenons like desertification. Rebecca from ICL says that the chances are much greater to undo this imbalance through synthetic biology instead of making it worse.


We have to treat this technology with respect, and there should be regulation, what we need right now is a framework.


i Agree we should do a case by case study, but why not let scientists do the evaluation?


Altering one or two genes of an organism doesn’t change an organism much.


Currently 8 people are waiting for their turn to speak in response to the demand for examples.


Examples of “going too far” are being demanded. None are given.


Statement: Synbio and GMO should be regulated as one and the same.


Right now one of the politicians is comparing the potential risks of synthetic biology to the risks of nuclear energy. The argument is that when something goes wrong the fallout will be huge. [Comment: Really?]


Introducing new species into the environment may alter the natural balance more than we can foresee, we feel we should regulate via ban and exception. Exceptions being granted on a project to project basis. Labs should be properly isolated from the environment.


Alfred from UCL points out that the views presented here are very extreme, why not take a more moderate approach and consider both sides? It is important to inform the public about our field, so that they can from an own opinion instead of being forcefed one by a pseudo authority. He also points out that scientists doubt themselves all the way through a project, so they definitely are not careless. [Comment: This man is a great speaker!]



Round 2: Regulation. How much risk are we willing to take, will too much innovation hamper further development of a promising field?


Transparancy towards the outer public might have its own risks, like dictators wanting to weaponize synbio.


If you trust doctors with your life, why dont you trust scientists? Therefore we made a synbio oath inspired by the hippocratic oath to inspire trust in scientists.


The potential benefits should notmake us careless, we should still be aware of the possible risks of synthetic biology.


I want to comfort you, you seem very afraid of synbio in general. We believe that the scientists are very open for discussions.


The question is not if we want to accept this (SynBio) happening, since we are already funding this research. So we should not just sit back and watch what is going to happen, but take influence on the evolution of the field. (regulations)


This cannot be stopped, it should not be stopped, because of its possibilities. There is however a sense of danger, we need to find a way to adress those. The best defence against synbio being used for evil is transparency.


We’re extremely reluctant to let any synbio into the environment.


At some point we will lose the ability to estimate the effect of new technologies – so new technologies are frightening since the general public could lose track of the implications and the effects SynBio will have.


It is far to cheap to only talk about how to use synbio, we should discuss whether we want to use this technology, even with potentially frightening consequences.


It is irrelevant to discuss if humans should interfere in nature, since new technologies like synthetic biology are unstoppable. It is more important to handle them responsibly.


Statement 1: Synthetic biology developments cannot be stopped. The question should not be if we want to use synthetic biology, but in what way.

How far are we, as humankind, willing to interfere in nature. How far is it our responsibility to go?


Dutch politics are confusing for most of the audience, one guy is representing two parties at the same time? How, does that even work?


Debate round 1 is starting now: PROMISE! Will we solve the energy crisis, improving health or creating monsters?


The biotec expert congratulates the ladies for being well represented in the life sciences, he is definitely charming the ladies right now.


The scientists and politicians sit across from each other, separated. But the politics representative that is up now, does not believe in this separation.


We’ll be having three rounds of debates, monitored by two experts. The debate is about to start.


The Rathenau institute is hosting this discussion. Their goal is to prepare scientists and society for the new technologies like synthetic biology and raising public awareness.


This meeting brings together a new generation of scientists and a new generation of politicians. Hoping to gain a better understanding of each other.


Subjects for tonight: Promises, regulations, who owns synthetic biology

European Wiki Freeze Special

Filed in 2011 | iGEM | Statistics Leave a comment | Edit

Preliminary investigations point to this man being the culprit who froze your wikis!

Since 11:59 PM Boston time the European wikis have been frozen. This means that the teams cannot update their wikis in the next two weeks. This gives us time to take a look at the big picture instead of focusing on single teams.

In this post we will look at some numbers and graphs from all the European teams and compare them with the other regions later. For an overview we start out with a map, “The World according to iGEM”, where the different countries’ area has been distorted according to the number of teams participating in the iGEM 2011 competition (a so-called cartogram):

The World according to iGEM

As You can see, rather small countries with many teams participating, like the Netherlands, suddenly take up a whole lot of the world map. Sadly only one African team made it through in the end and as a result the African continent has been shrunk a lot in comparison to it’s normal size. Japan and the UK suddenly turn into islands of Greenland-like size because of the high density of iGEM teams there. Let us focus on Europe for now and take a look at where the European teams hail from:

Country Teams participating
Germany 5
England 5
France 4
Netherlands 4
Turkey 4
Denmark 3
Spain 3
Scotland 3
Belgium 2
Switzerland 2
Italy 2
Hungary 1
Norway 1
Poland 1
Sweden 1
South Africa 1
Total: 42

(We excluded teams that did not pay the registration fee and / or did not submit any parts.)

These 42 teams consist of 410 students from vastly different fields of study ranging from ecoonomics and psychology, telematics (?!), theoretical physics to microbiology. The average team size for Europe is 9,76 students per team with the biggest team being TU-Munich with 19 students and the smallest team being ENSPS-Strasburg with 2 team members.

Overall 638 biobricks were submitted to the partsregistry, which is a mean of 15,19 parts / team. DTU-Denmark 2 has submitted 70 biobricks and wins the title for spamming the partsregistry, while Bilkent UNAM-Turkey, St Andrews,ULB Brussel and Lyon INSA-ENS all share the spot for fewest parts submitted with two.

But what is the relation between parts submitted and the amount of members of each team? Let us find out via a chart:

From this chart we can see that DTU-Denmark 2 has created a whopping 14 parts per team member, they must have spent day and night in the lab the last year!

So what about the tracks? Well, let’s just answer that one with a pie-chart, where You can see how the European teams are distributed in the different tracks. It is not unexpected that “New Application” and “Foundational Advance” are popular tracks, still almost half the European teams this year are competing in these two categories. It’s also interesting to note that “Health and Medicine” has become the smallest category, which is somewhat unexpected given the amount of past contributions in this track. Finally software tools is interesting, not because it is small, but because we aren’t seeing any of the old software teams, both contributions being from rookie teams this year.


Out of the 42 teams participating in the European regionals, 15 are competing for the first time. So how did the “old” teams fare in the past years? This graph tells us all about that:

Medal results of the "old" teams from Europe competing in 2011: Gold represents that the team received a gold medal, silver a silver medal, bronze a bronze medal. White means that the team did not participate that year and black means that results are not available yet.


We hope You enjoyed our little detour into statistics today – tomorrow we will return to our more standard writing style and post short (!) reviews of the 15 rookie teams that are going to the regionals in Amsterdam.


Disclaimer: The statistics that form the basis for our statistical analysis have been personally mined from the teams’ wikis and iGEM homepage and therefore are prone to personal error and misjudgement. The raw data can be found here.