Team:Penn State/HumanPractives


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PSU iGEM 2011 Home Wet lab Research Human Practices Results

(Re)Designing Life

This year, for the human practices portion of the iGEM competition, the Penn State team developed a video that explains synthetic biology in an understandable way for any general audience. This video is titled “(Re)designing Life” and addresses many topics surrounding the implementation and execution of synthetic biology. These topics include misconceptions generated by misinformation from the general public, the techniques used to perform synthetic biology, ethical issues surrounding genetic engineering research and the future applications of synthetic biology. Through this video, the Penn State team aimed to bridge the gap that separates the technical jargon used by today’s scientists and the understanding the common public has for common biology. As a result, the misconceptions surrounding these technologies will hopefully be eliminated, opening a new relationship between synthetic biologists and the population they wish to improve.

Why This Video is Unique

While previous teams have made synthetic biology informational videos for their human practices project, this video differs not primarily in content, but in intended audience. Most of the previous videos and workshops submitted to iGEM have been directed towards students attending grade school, secondary school, or even universities. The Penn State team developed their video with the elderly the primary audience. The residents of Foxdale Village, a retirement community in State College, PA, were given the opportunity to view the video submitted by the Penn State team. The age range of these residents spanned from 65-104 years, a demographic that has not been investigated by previous iGEM competitions. From this viewing and a short discussion following the video, the residents were able to gain a better understanding of genetically modified organisms and their relation to synthetic biology.

Why the elderly?

In addition to their role as an untapped demographic, the elderly provide an open audience available to give feedback and opinions regarding the synthetic biology video. While the elderly population will have difficulty adding to the ever expanding technology that allows genetic engineering and synthetic biology, this demographic can still have a lasting impact on the scope of the scientific world we presently live in. The elderly remain active in the political landscape through voting. According to the report summarizing the 2008 presidential election voting patterns, about 20% of all voters were above the age of 65, while only 10% were between 18-24. The latter age group has been well represented in previous iGEM human practices projects, but the former has yet to be reached. Until now…

The Penn State 2011 iGEM team conduced a three hour workshop at the Foxdale Village retirement community in the local State College, PA area. Throughout the course of the three hour workshop residents were asked to view the video and talk with members of the team who were present to answer any quetsions they may have. The participants were also asked to answer survey questions based on their opinions and knowledge of synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and GMOs before and after viewing the video.

Research Component

The Penn State iGEM team had two main goals for the video “(Re)designing Life.” The Penn State team first wanted to determine if this video provided an adequate explanation of the technology behind synthetic biology and genetic engineering to any viewing audience. Assuming the video provided enough information for the viewers to understand synthetic biology fully, the Penn State team then hypothesized that with this information, the general audience will form more positive opinions regarding synthetic biology. In particular we focused on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are defined as any organism whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered through human intervention. By improving the public perception of GMOs, the Penn State iGEM team hopes to increase positive regulation of this technology without allowing severe limits by the government on scientific advancement in the field of synthetic biology and GMOs.

The adequacy of the synthetic biology information portrayed in the video as well as this information’s effects on the audience’s perceptions regarding GMOs were analyzed through the use of two surveys. The first surveyfirst survey was given to the audience before the video in order to determine demographic information as well as a baseline for the audience’s opinions regarding GMOs. After the video was shown, a second survey was given to the audience in order to determine if the audience increased their knowledge of synthetic biology as well as if this knowledge changed their opinions regarding GMOs.

Survey Data

Statistical analysis was done based on the survey data that was collected to determine if the video was influential in changing the opinions of the participants. The questions on the survey had participants rate how strongly they opposed or supported the use of GMOs in certain situations. There were other questions on the survey; however, these had to be cut because it became difficult to accurately and truthfully analyze the survey data. We wanted the pre-survey and post-survey questions to be the same so that accurate statistical comparison could be made under the same conditions. Questions were eliminated to ensure that only the same questions got compared.

Overall, we had 18 participants in the study; however, one of the participants did not fill out the pre-video survey and another backed out of the study. Their data was removed from the data set, so only 16 participants counted. Of those that were counted, 1 was 50 years and younger, 2 were 71-75 years old, 2 were 76-80 years old, 4 were 86-90 years old, and 3 were 90+ years. 7 of the participants were male and 8 were female. 1 had a high school diploma, 3 had a bachelor’s degree, 4 had a masters degree, 5 had a doctorate, 1 had post-doctorate experience, and 2 had other educational backgrounds. Occupationally, 1 had background in engineering, 2 in education, 5 in science, 3 in liberal arts, 4 in medicine and health, and 1 in another field. As you can see, a wide variety of people we sampled in this study, to account for background differences in the study.

Each filled out a pre-video survey regarding GMOs in certain situations. Then, after the video was presented, they filled out a post-video survey about how each participant felt in those same situations. Each of their responses was quantified into numbers, 1 for strongly agree to 5 for strongly disagree. Each of the responses was averaged for each participant, and those averages were averaged again to find general views of genetic engineering before the video and after. The mean value for pre-video data was 2.35 (STD = 0.61), and the mean value for the post-video data was 2.28 (STD = 0.63). This indicates that the video did have some effect on influencing the general views of the participants. However, the statistical analysis yielded insignificant results, indicating that these results could just be due to chance (t = 0.31, p-value = approx. 0.35). This shows that while our video might have slightly influenced the results, these influences were not significant enough to show that change in opinion had occurred.

We feel that this might be due to several reasons. One might have been the quality of the way we presented the video. Many complained of not being able to hear the video. Other participants talked about how our video did not go too in-depth in the topic. For future projects, a video that looks into the mechanisms and the debate surrounding genetic engineering might be more beneficial in being able to influence more changes in opinion. Furthermore, better organization of the video might have helped to make the video much easier to follow along with, making it more informative to the population. Future projects could look at a variety of populations to get a larger demographic involved in the project. These results could be very interesting.

Institutional Review Board

In order for the Penn State team to conduct research in the form of a survey using human participants, the surveys and recruitment process needed to be approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Three of the students, Alex Bina, Lauren Rossi and Vishal Saini received training through the IRB in conduction sociological and biomedical research. After training, and with the help of Leland Glenna, an associate professor of rural sociology and science, technology, and society at Penn State, the research proposal was reviewed and approved, as proven by the implied consent form.