The fourth area of creative experimentation will explore citizen cyberscience at the frontiers of knowledge in the biological sciences.
Synthetic biology is a new interdisciplinary emerging field. At its core lies the quest for novel biological characters by bringing together disparate functions through genetic engineering to interact and perform new tasks., This results from computer scientists and engineers’ capacity better to model genetic circuits with predictive value, matched by the capacity of molecular biologists to implement such circuits through DNA synthesis and assembly within living cells. Already a successful industry (estimated at 2 billion euro by 2013), the bedrock of innovation in this field is an open community student-team competition organized by MIT – the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition and with it the open registry for biological parts that make accessible the resulting constructs to the benefit of the community.
This year iGEM included 200 teams. The UPD team (iGEM Paris) is in the forefront of this competition, winning gold medals and numerous awards (‘best foundational advances,’ ‘best model,’ ‘best human practice’, ‘best Environment project’) in the past five years, more than holding its own against top-notch institutions (MIT, Harvard, ETH, Cambridge, ICSTM et al.). Importantly, the iGEM team’s work provides an exceptional opportunity to expose and learn actively through doing research – taking responsibility in all aspects of research. The accessibility of the key synthetic biology methodologies enabled a recent wave of DIY communities and raises hope for new citizen-based scientific advances – as well as ethical and risk concerns.
In the Citizen Cyberlab project, we will extend the synthetic biology scientific endeavour to the public by harnessing its potential for identifying key research projects that will then be implemented in a certified research lab, circumventing the risks involved in DIY Biology and catalyzing the research in this emerging field. Citizen Cyberlab will advance the state of the art by providing a truly unique opportunity to study, support and create a platform for participation in hands-on creative learning in advanced experimental science.
Hand-on Crowdsourcing in Synthetic Biology
This pilot project aims at harnessing synthetic biology potential by public engagement in synthetic biology research. Our aims are: (i) learning through doing about the research process at large by following all steps underlying a research project; (ii) couple research action to social responsibility; (iii) conceiving and achieving society-relevant innovative projects in synthetic biology. Recent successes of games as FoldIt where gamers can now design their own protein that could then be actually implemented in a lab to verify the prediction as well as EteRNA, where successful RNA programmed folding designs can be synthesized, set the challenge to tackle a more complex system as a genetic network and its implementation within bacterial cells
This task will be achieved by crowd-sourcing the following steps:
1) idea conception. Researchers conceive their projects through a combination of what they already know, coupled with constraints of targeted budget and their conception of what’s important. In this phase, the public will be directly involved in posing challenges, asking questions at first and through cycles of votes, comments and community debate crystallize ideas (up to 5) that will win this phase and climb to the next step. Dialogue with the society needs to be based on learning synthetic biology by the lay person. A portal assembling courses, reading material, interactive Q&A and original research papers will be provided. Students at the CRI have already made a first version of such platforms, with thousands of visitors on a regular basis.
2) translation to a doable project. The selected ideas will be then crowd-sourced on our platform for best implementation idea that maximize automation and robotics for efficiency and feasibility. Selection of up to 3 projects will be made by invited student experts through dialogue with the public.
3) experimentation. Unlike regular lab research that is mostly done behind closed doors, our citizen-based version will be transparent and participative. The citizens’ experimental design will be exposed to the scrutiny of the players, who will be able to suggest alternative strategies on one hand and offer interpretation of the obtained data on the other. As in the original iGEM competition, the team will hold an updated wiki platform that assembles the results, applications and implications of the project. We expect not only to end up with groundbreaking projects but also to be able to assess at the meta level the process of scientific investigation.
4) dissemination of results. The public exposure of the projects’ results, applications and implications is the final part of the game. Best communication will be developed with the gamers to achieve clarity, ethical and understandable scientific communication. We expect to achieve peer-review level of scientific results that can be published in scientific journals.
5) Assessment, user data collection and analysis, evaluation phase – linking to WP6
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 Khalil AS, Collins JJ. Synthetic biology: applications come of age. Nat Rev Genet. 2010 May;11(5):367-79.
 Mukherji S, van Oudenaarden A. Synthetic biology: understanding biological design from synthetic circuits. Nat Rev Genet. 2009 Dec;10(12):859-71.
 Z. Popovic, personal communication