The central focus of our Human Practice (HP) is to disseminate knowledge of coral reefs, the marine ecosystem around them, the devastation they are facing, and what we try to do with science and technology to prevent coral bleaching and ensure the sustainability of the ocean. To solve the problems and implement the idea of sustainable development, we aimed to improve the resistance of coral reefs against marine environmental stress by enhancing coral nutrition. The project implementation will be of critical importance to coral reef conservation and recovery and the ecosystems in the tropical/subtropical marine areas. Our HP involves the investigation on public awareness of endangerment of coral reefs, coral's impacts on the socio-economic development, and design and analysis of questionnaires for our decision-making on the strategies of practical and sustainable solutions for the coral bleaching issue.
The Human Practice team divide our project into two phases:"problem detection" and "solution"."Hypothesis-Operation-Feedback-Revision" is the key principle directing all our actions. We hold seminars, spread online surveys, consult professionals, write pop-science articles, do social investigations, analyze internet big data and interact with different stakeholders. We believe that our solutions can not only inspire scientists to develop new coral reef treatments, but also facilitate eco-friendly tourism of sea islands.
Coral Reef Protection VS Economy
We have decided to go to the West Island to investigate the actual influence of coral reef on the local economy. This can help us to reveal the opinion of the project-related interest group. The West Island is an important part of the China Coral Reef National Reserve. Due to its beautiful beaches and coral reefs, it is one of the world's greatest diving club as well.
Through our communication with the travelling companies on the island, the annual number of tourists arriving at the diving center is approximately 200,000 people. During the holidays of the international labor day in May,2019, the income of travelling reached 18.91 billions of RMB (about 2.7 billions of dollars). The local people and their families (about 110,000 people) rely on tourism for stable jobs and incomes.
In the mid 20th century, the high level of income that marine tourism bring catalyzes the deal and exchange of corals, resulting in the over-catching of the hermatypic corals in the West Island. The corals of the South China Sea wilted drastically. During the 80s, laws were imposed to ban selling and buying of corals, but tourists' activities were not stopped completely. Garbages of tourists, waste disposals of hotels, sun creams, diving activities and pollution from sea vehicles are still threatening the ecology of coral reefs on the West Island.
"Without coral reefs, there will be no the so-called tourism industry"
--Ticket manager of the tourist area in Western Island
Sanya Coral Reef Ecological Research Institute
After we successfully completed our lab experiments at Hainan University in Haikou city mid-August 2020, we went to another city, Sanya in the tropical Hainan island. Based on our agreement with Sanya Coral Reef Ecological Research Institute (SCERI), we would collaborate with the institute for the implementation of our novel design for the growth of a "super coral" which would avoid coral bleaching. We set up a seawater aquarium for the corals. The corals we cultivated with a new symbiotic relationship would be tested with long-term growth observations in the institute as an on-going collaborative project. We went to the West Island site of Sanya Coral Reef Ecological Research Institute in mid-August 2020 to observe the wild coral reefs. The West Island is an important part of the China Coral Reef National Reserve. Sanya Coral Reef Ecological Research Institute (SCERI) is an NGO for scientific research. The institute has long been focusing on the industrial application of scientific research and transferring the protection of the coral reef ecology into economical benefits. It corresponds to the principal of iGEM.
Dr. Wu, the SCERI head, showed a great interest in our goal and strategy. He told us that SCERI's primary objective is to apply artificial coral cultures to restore the ecology of coral reefs in the South China Sea. As a local research institution, it has the mission of educating the public about coral bleaching and marine biology. This fits very well with our project vision, and Dr. Wu agreed to establish a long-term cooperation with us to integrate coral synthetic biology to solve the severe problem of coral bleaching.
By understanding the work contents of the institute, our HP work has a broader and more creative idea. Public education and science popularization has always been one of the most important tasks of the Institute. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, exhibitions and large gatherings are banned, causing great challenges to the science popularization task of the Institute.
At the same time, we realized that the institute's patent intellectual property is concentrated in the field of coral inoculation and coral nursery design. The application of biotechnology is unprecedented for SCERI, which gives us a great hope of accomplishing this goal.
At the invitation of Dr. Wu, we were able to go to the field monitoring station of the research institute located on the West Island to learn about the current work and challenges of coral reef restoration. Frequent human activities and global warming affect the quality of the seawater here and threaten the survival of corals. However, it is difficult and complicated to change and alter the seawater.
Dr. Wu told us that it is more feasible to start with changing the coral's ability to resist environmental stress. What is more exciting is that the staff of the institute discovered the phenomenon of coral polyps escaping during the process of monitoring coral activities. The escape process requires a lot of energy and nutrients. This made us very surprised and made us focused on the concentration of nutrients in the coral symbiosis system. This, as a result, became the main focus of our subsequent experiments.
We believe that our survey toward the public should be both pertinent and mutually helpful, so we designed a survey based on questions related to corals and coral bleaching. There are 17 questions in the survey, involving 4 aspects of knowledge (age and occupation information of the respondents; level of cognition of coral from the respondents; level of cognition of coral bleaching from the respondents; channels of information the respondents use). We passed our survey both on the internet and through online social media's group chats. After two weeks of collection, we obtained 835 responses worldwide, including responses from China, India, America, Canada, UK, and so on.
Most of our respondents are adults that have an occupation (57%), and students in 1 to 12 grades (28%).
In case of age, most of our respondents are 31 to 60 years old (53%), and 13 to 18 years old (32%), which corresponds to their occupations.
--Basic level of cognition of coral and coral bleaching--
During the analysis of our results, we found an interesting phenomenon. In terms of the answer toward the question of "Do you think coral has a great impact on marine ecology?", a vast majority of people believe that the impact is "significant" on the scale of 1 to 10 (10 indicates the greatest impact).
But when we start observing the public's recognization and attention towards corals, we came over with a completely different result.
In response to the question of "What is coral?", we found that 46.1% of people choses the correct answer.
In contrast, in response to the question of determining the healthy corals, the choices are not significant.
Question: Which of the following coral is unhealthy?
In addition, in response to the question of "do you know coral bleaching", 27% of the respondents voted "don't know", and 48% only heard of the term but don't know much about the topic.
Because of this, we became curious about whether the public really matter corals. So, we used Google trends to make comparison between the three ocean-related keywords from 2009 to 2019. The result corresponded with our survey results. Among a series of ocean-related issues, the searching frequency of coral bleaching is the lowest.
The public seem to think that coral has a great impact on the world's marine ecology, but they have a relatively low understanding about coral bleaching, the greatest crisis faced by corals. Our respondents cannot even distinguish healthy corals and bleached corals clearly.
--Channels of information--
Knowing how our respondents receive ecology-related information is important for us as we want to know the effective way of publicizing scientific information. In our survey, we found that 77.35% respondent are used to receive information passively, 50.06% are used to gain information actively in the same time. This data is important for us to choose our way of publicizing. Since knowing the fact that most people would like to receive information, social media become our first choice of spreading our information.
Total effective answers: 777 (this is a mult-choice question)
Chain reaction, World Ocean Day
Based on our questionnaire analysis, the HP team decided to use social media on smart phones with images and written words in order to spread the scientific knowledge. In order to maximise this spread and make it more effective, we have contacted Professor Yuan working in the school of information and economic management, Huadong Shifan University. She aimed towards the characteristics of Internet information dissemination and introduced to us the term "social network", making us became more confident that using social media as a public science popularization tool is effective and can be accepted by most internet users.
Professor Yuan and the assistant is giving us talks.
The colorful seabed images can easily capture smart phone users' attention. Scientific words that are concise and to the point can spread very important information in a short period of time. Every team member should undertake the original information spreading's panel point, using the aid of the influence if the World Ocean's Day, we will be able to fully use the spreading trend of social network to spread the idea of coral protection and the aim of IGEM, making the public be able to access interesting scientific knowledges during these challenging times.
We are very delighted that Dr Wu has listened to our final research results and participated our discussion on the content of the 'popularization of science' poster, giving us corrections on coral related data that's been presented. After some intense discussions in the team, we finally decided to release those information in 2020/6/8---the World Ocean Day. Our 'popularization of science' poster soon has been retransmitted and liked by friends and teachers, there were also feedbacks from friends, family members and even strangers. Surprisingly, the contents in the poster has caused some discussions in other teams as well.
Social media screenshots are made under permission of the users and the names are made anonymous for protection of personal names.
This new round of discussion has driven our attention, it origins from the challenge of a thirteen-year old girl and it is basically around the question of whether coral is a kind of animal or just a skeleton. We think this is a good chance for us to interact with other teams, so according to the question she asked, we focused on the issue of the differences between the translation of "coral" in English and Chinese. We divided into groups and researched loads of both Chinese and English materials based on coral and we figured out that because of the different rules of scientific naming in different languages, it often can be misleading for people to really understand what coral is. After knowing this fact, we have considered that this might be a common problem, so we have written a mew scientific article based on "what is a coral" and published on our teams' official account on social media. At the same time, we have followed the spreading track of this information and contacted the girls' parents, using this article to solve her confusion.
Screenshot of the article
Integrated Human Practices
In August 2020, we have been to Sanya Coral Reef Ecological Research Institute in the tropical island, Hainan, China for collaboration with them. We signed an agreement with the research institute to set up a on-site mariculture tank for the co-cultures of Corals, Zooxanthellae and probiotic Pseudomonas denitrificans in sea water. The research institute can assist us in collecting data for our continuous coral symbiosis cultures.
We have built artificial Marine coral cultivation tanks in the laboratory of Hainan University during October this year. The staff at the laboratory will observed and measured the growth of coral symbionts everyday to ensure their health.
In December 2020 we aim to transplant our corals into the field station of Sanya Institute for their growth in the wild.
The coral transplants will earn greater value based on ecological restoration and ultimately strengthen protection power of Sanya Coral Reefs.
We are looking forward to the future for the “super corals” designed by CHLORIS will be successful in the prevention of coral bleaching.
New media and Public education
During the whole project, we are always working on spreading the knowledge through new media. After we finished the public survey, we found that more than half of the people we investigated didn't know exactly whether coral polyp is an animal or a plant. Thus, we decided to write a popular science article that can help people know the definition of corals and help them to tell apart coral reefs, coral polyps, and the calcified exoskeleton.
After that, we received many comments under the article wanting us to write more. So, we decided to create a series of popular science articles on corals. We then wrote another 2 popular science articles explaining coral bleaching and depicting the evolution of corals.
Clubs in the schools are often the place where inspiration and creativity are sparked, and we believe that we can gain more surprises by promoting the knowledge of iGEM and synthetic biology in clubs. So we came into contact with the President Yuling Gu and the vice President Yishan Mao of the biology club in WFSU, and planned to organize a remote synthetic biology teaching course. In this course, we have illustrated our CHLORIS (Coral HeaLth Boost and Reinforcement in Symbiosis) project, knowledge related to gene engineering and rules of iGEM competition. Thirty-eight students from the biology club participated in this educational lecture. In the conference room and the chat group, we had a heated discussion about the selection of biological experiment samples, construction of the engineered bacteria, PCR experiment and the conversion and combination technologies.
Screenshots of educational talks and speeches