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Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center

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Engaging public stakeholders about synthetic biology

Synberc seeks to create a cadre of practitioners that is willing and able to pursue authentic dialogue and engagement with the public about societal aspects of synthetic biology. We engage the general public through social media, science cafes, science museums and centers, public talks, op/eds, and so on. We engage policymakers through federal testimony, white papers, and advisory roles in various agencies and commissions. The ability for scientists to clearly communicate their work is an important component of engagement, but just as important is an improved ability to actively listen to public views and incorporate those views into research agendas that lead us toward a publicly shared vision of the future. 
To join our mailing list for public engagement in synbio, please visit the mailing list page. We also recommend the AAAS discussion on public engagement (registration required).
Synberc communications & engagement activities
  • Conversations about Synthetic BiologyIn trying to engineer solutions to important real-world challenges to society, synbio especially connects to human values around science and technology. The Conversations about Synthetic Biology series brings diverse community members together with synthetic biologists to share knowledge, hopes and concerns about synthetic biology. The goal is to engage members of the public in a genuine two-way conversation about the responsible advance of engineering biology. We’d greatly welcome your views and perspectives - learn about our next event!

  • #meetsynbio - We are conducting a social media campaign to introduce members of the public to the people behind synthetic biology. We hope to better connect with the people in our community whom we endeavor to benefit. This will give scientists and the broader public an opportunity to share their motivations and concerns about how we can together shape the responsible advancement of #synbio to solve important problems in the world.


  • Building with BiologyMulti-Site Public Engagement with Science (MSPES) in Synthetic Biology - The aim of this project is to create conversations in science museums among scientists, engineers, and public audiences about an emerging research field, synthetic biology. Conversations between researchers and public audiences will focus not only on what synthetic biology is and how research in the field is carried out, but also on the potential products, outcomes, and implications for society of this work. Researchers and publics will explore personal and societal values and priorities as well as desired research outcomes so that both groups can learn from each other. Public participants will benefit from knowing about this field of research, and researchers will benefit from hearing public perspectives directly from the public participants. This project will be led by the Museum of Science with partners at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Ithaca Sciencenter, and several other universities and science museums.

  • Synthetic Dance-ology (now STEM Dance-ology) - In these activities, a professional dancer (and creative movement teacher), Amanda Whitehead, and a scientist (and Synberc's education, outreach, and diversity manager), Shaila Kotadia, work with participants to translate synthetic biology research projects into dances. They help participants break down the project into parts, explore those parts through movement and then lead them through the remixing and stringing together of those movements to form an accessible dance routine that illustrates the completed research project. This is followed by a discussion supplemented with practicing synthetic biologists. Participants explore synthetic biology in a fun way that reinforces learning, sparks questions and promotes interaction! Synthetic Dance-ology has officially transitioned to its own independent business, STEM Dance-ology.

                             Make your science move

Resources for synthetic biology communication and engagement
Below are videos, radio interviews, and panels concerning synthetic biology, along with some notable books and interesting papers from synthetic biologists, that might serve as useful examples of how scientists can effectively engage with public audiences about synthetic biology. This list is a work in progress - please email us with additional suggestions.
To learn more about synthetic biology, please visit our What is Synthetic Biology? page or our collection of synthetic biology reports.
Synthetic biology public dialogue and communication
Examples of synthetic biology in popular media
Examples of synthetic biology on radio
Books about synthetic biology and genetic engineering technologies
Scientific articles of relevance
Gene drives - Technical (Esvelt et al., eLife, 2014)
Gene drives - Policy Forum (Oye et al., Science, 2014)
Biology's Brave New World (Garrett, Foreign Affairs, 2013)
rE. coli (Isaacs et al., Science, 2011)
Expanded Genetic Alphabet (Malyshev et al., Nature, 2014)
New Genetic Bases - News (Ewen Callaway)