Team:UCL Academy/HumanPractice/Activity1



Synthetic vs Natural Synbio Outreach Commercial algal growth containment

Synthetic vs. Natural Investigation

“The year is 2024, and algae toxicity is a growing problem. Abroad synthetic biology product Cyanobuster is widely used to contain algae blooms but it has not yet been approved by UK parliament. The GMO environmental law is up for review next month on the 28th of June… Which way would you vote?”

Synthetic biology is becoming an increasing relevant tool in commercial biotechnology. In May, Ecover was denounced by the ETC group for using unlabelled synthetic biology ingredients in household products. This is reviewed by the NY times.

To support our investigation, we produced a short dystopian film. The video was inspired by the iGEM 2012 Meeting of Young Minds.We presented a fictional scenario in which algae toxicity is increasingly dangerous, and the chemical solution is environmentally unfriendly. We conducted interviews with a questionnaire (results below).

Bio-Fiction Film Festival

We entered our short film into the Bio-Fiction film festival, a competition that will be held in Vienna on the 23rd to the 25th of October later this year. The competition features short films on all aspects of synthetic biology, including documentary films, animation, (science) fiction.


We conducted interviews in our local community with questionnaires to collect qualitative and quantitative data in response to our video.

Before showing the video, we asked:

What does synthetic mean? What does natural mean?

Do you know what synthetic biology is?

What do you think it is?

The majority of participants did not know what synthetic biology meant. We explained and discussed the concept of synthetic biology before asking two follow-up questions.

Do you have a preference for synthetic or natural products?

Why do you have a preference?

We introduced the futuristic scenario before watching the video with the participants. After watching the video, we asked:

What would you prefer: a GMO solution vs. chemical solution?

Would you refuse to use synthetic products even if the natural products were toxic?

The majority of participants would use synthetic products if the natural products were more environmentally damaging, and toxic like the chemical treatment of algae blooms.

We then discussed the recent controversy over the use of synthetic biology ingredients in household products, and we asked:

What concerns would you have using the product Cyanobuster?

What information would you want on the packaging?

Would you rather GMOs to be banned or labelled?

In what products would the use of GMO be ok?

Interestingly, a fair proportion of participants would still prefer GMO to be banned instead of labeled, despite a much smaller proportion refusing to use synthetic products even if the natural products were toxic.

CIDEB-UANL Collaboration

We are collaborating with the Mexican team to collect an international response to our video in Mexico. Geographical location, country politics and culture play an important role in forming common understandings and public opinion. We are excited to compare the community’s opinion from a different continent to the response from our community.