Team:St Andrews/Human Practices

Shinescreen: A Novel,Entirely Reef-Safe Probiotic Sunscreen.

Human Practices


Integrated Human Practices

‘Shinescreen’ was inspired by the need of preserving marine life (SDG 14) and continued being our main goal throughout the competition. Throughout the iGEM process, we broadened the focus of the project and incorporated several micro projects into the human practices, reaching diverse areas of society. From the time of deciding on a project to altering the final details of the experimental design, stakeholder interviews were of a precious support and guided us in the way to honing the final project.

Meanwhile, we embraced the opportunity of iGEM to meet other teams from all around the world and find a unique, unexpected way of collaboration. In this aspect, on the UK meet up Manchester team and us discovered that both teams were working on a very similar project and this led to a long term and valuable partnership, as explored more here: Partnership

Our team led an intensive human practices campaign: we conducted extensive stakeholder interviews, hosted an educational forum on GMOS, created an app that shows the environmentally toxic ingredients in your sunscreen, conducted surveying and twitter analyses to gather public opinions, and created educational material for children.

Our team interacted with society directly and indirectly through:

(1) assessing the knowledge and opinion about GMOs by conducting twitter sentiment analysis of tweets with a key word ‘GMO’, then relating the analysis to the sunscreen survey, which culminated in the organisation of a synthetic biology forum;

(2) raising environmental and health awareness, considering sunscreen ingredients, by the development of an app, displaying information on the toxicity of each chemical contained in sunscreen. We were, also involved in educational activities, helping the school project ‘Antibiotics under our feet’;

(3) identifying market demand by the means of the online survey. This part of human practices was closely interwind with entrepreneurship and allowed even transition of the project exploring this field.

Our human practices were truly related and integrated. Some of our stakeholder interviewees, such as Les Firbank, appeared as speakers on our GMO forum. Our sunscreen survey and twitter analysis served to not only get public views, but also strengthened our market research. Moreover, Dr. Tagliati made us realise there are many environmentally harmful chemicals in sunscreen on top of the UV-filter that are not talked about as much. This encouraged us to create the Coralware app to detect environmentally harmful cosmetics ingredients such as microplastics and parabens, creating a holistic approach to tackle this issue of sunscreen damage to the marine environment.

Our human practices activities also greatly influenced the dry-lab experimental design of the project, mainly in the context of biosafety and efficiency. The stakeholder interviews made us realise the importance of this. After meeting the marine biologist Dr Nicola Allison, we became aware of the need of incorporating mechanisms preventing our chassis organism from disturbing coral microbiome. Then, during the interview of Prof Firbank, an agroecologist and member of EFSA GMO panel, he summarised the very strict regulations of GMO products. Considering the issues raised from stakeholders, St Andrews team developed micro and macro models, predicting the behaviour and the requirements of our genetically engineered chassis organism, while considering the needs of potential consumers.

We completely redesigned our kill switch in response to stakeholder concerns, deciding on a two plasmid system that would minimise horizontal gene transfer. We also incorporated an endonuclease into the killswitch, which adds a degree of redundancy into the killswitch, as well as reducing the chance of horizontal gene transfer. Finally, we also created a model to test the evolutionary stability of our model in response to concerns raised by our stakeholders. More detail about our killswitch can be found in our Safety page, and a description of our evolutionary mutation model can be found in our Model page.

Stakeholder Interviews


Through the course of our project, we made sure to meet with an abundance of stakeholders, experts, and the public. We wanted to make sure our scientific developments closely aligned with the needs of experts, latest science, and trends in the sunscreen market. We therefore met with coral researchers such as Dr Allison from the University of St Andrews as well as Dr. Hennige and Dr Tagliati from the University of Edinburgh to explore the benefits of our product on coral reefs as well as how to navigate any possible risks. From this, we concluded our sunscreen could have significant positive effects on marine ecosystem health, but this also influenced our extensive killswitch and mutation modelling. We talked to Professor Firbank from the University of Leeds to more fully explore biosafety, and gained insights into the practicality of creating such a product in accordance with safety regulations. After having gained more of a scientific perspective from these stakeholder meetings, we wanted to gain some insights into the industry and the creation of a sustainable sunscreen. We met with Louise Laing, founder of People4Ocean, and Cornelia Schürch, Head of Development and Compliance at Mibelle biochemistry. Lastly, we met with a Professor in dermatology, whom was very interested in the photo-sensitivity patient treatment angle. She saw permanent integration into the microbiome as a possible benefit in treating people with a sun allergy who can barely go outside. Overall, we let our project be influenced by these insights, and it turns shared our insights, ensuring a feedback loop between our stakeholders and our project.

Meeting with Dr. Allison

For our first meeting, we interviewed Dr. Nicola Allison, a researcher at the University of St Andrews interested in biomineralisation in marine organisms such as corals. In particular she studies how organisms form CaCO3 biominerals, what the chemistry of these minerals can tell about past environments and how biomineral formation will be affected by climate and environmental change. Overall, Dr. Allison was very positive about the potential of our project. When we asked Dr. Allison about possible risks she could imagine, however, she stated that although unlikely, there might be a risks of the E.coli entering the coral through the coral mucus, which is very sensitive, and cause a viral infection.

As a result of this, we decided to intensively focus on altering out kill-switch, which would prevent the bacteria staying in the microbiome for too long, and also prevent them from escaping into the marine environment. We thus spend extensive time and efforts on mutation modelling due to our meeting with Dr. Allison.

Meeting With Dr Hennige and Tagliati

Following our interview with Dr Allison, we met up with Dr. Hennige at her suggestion, as well as, Dr. Tagliati. Dr. Hennige’s research has centred around the impact of climate change and pollutants on marine organisms and ecosystems, with particular focus on tropical and cold-water coral reefs. While Dr Tagliati had just completed her PhD on the effect of sunscreen on corals. Both Dr. Hennige and Dr. Tagliati were very positive about the effect our sunscreen could have. We also ran the ideas of our killswitch past them, which we developed further at Dr. Allison’s suggestion, and Dr Tagliati complimented the killswitch. We thus altered our modeling due to human practices, and then again checked with another expert to ensure our project would minimise risks.

Moreover, Dr. Tagliati made us realise there are many environmentally harmful chemicals in sunscreen on top of the UV-filter that are not talked about as much. This encouraged us to create the Coralware app to detect environmentally harmful ingredients sunscreen, creating a holistic approach to tackle this issue of sunscreen damage to the marine environment.

Furthermore, Dr Hennige and Tagliati made us aware about the fact that additional stressors (such as sunscreen) might tip coral reefs into bleaching. They highlighted how minimising one small things, such as the damage sunscreen has on coral, can reduce the effect of other stresses on the reef such as warming of the ocean. This really highlighted the potential importance of our project, as one factor such as sunscreen could push coral reefs over the tipping point, as we would be working on at least minimising this one factor. This meeting also furthered our partnership with Manchester, as we invited them along and they asked some very useful and interesting questions to Dr. Hennige and Dr. Tagliati.

Image: meeting with Dr. Hennige and Dr. Tagliati

Meeting with Dr. Helder Ferreira

Dr. Ferreira is a lecturer in the University of St Andrews, whose research focusses on chromatin dynamics from local chromatin structure to global nuclear organization and how this regulates cellular processes.

It was suggested that we carry out codon optimisation for all gene circuit parts to be included in our E.coli chassis. This followed with previous advice from Dr. Jacqueline Nairn to improve expression efficiency of our desired gene clusters. Optimisation of parts was carried out using the IDT codon optimisation tool. In line with optimisation, we were also informed to use promoters specific to E.coli where applicable. For this, the Anderson promoter catalogue was used to maximise expression and ‘readibility’ of DNA. It is hoped that as part of future lab work, the entire Anderson catalogue library can be screened to further maximise shinorine productivity.

Dr. Ferreira further highlighted how expression of the shinorine producing gene cluster could be made more consistent by utilising a constitutive mode of expression compared to UV light induction. From this advice, we adapted our design to include UV light induced promoter dependency in the kill switch whilst using constitutive promoters for shinogen enzyme expression.

Further research was carried out into UV intensity and the requirements of activation for our UV sensing system. From this, it was discovered that the former system would have been strongly inactivated in the presence of green light which of course is greatly abundant throughout the day. We thus began looking at other light sensing systems where deactivation was less prominent. The uirS-uirR system was hence replaced with the ccaS-ccaR system – a light sensor that is hoped to remain active in broad daylight.

In terms of production application, it was suggested that we refine our method of storage to activation of our bacteria when spread on the skin by additional means of oxygen sensing. Oxygen sensors were found but pre-existing preculture and cold storage of our product was determined suitable without the need for additional sensing components.

The killswitch was discussed which prompted further research into a more simple design. Revising our former design allowed for implementation of new regulatory control methods to make the previous system more efficient and robust.

Chromosomal integration of our gene circuit into the engineered organism was also suggested as a more stable method to plasmid integration. After further discussion, we determined that although stability was an important factor, in order to generate the shinorine quantities required to protect the skin, plasmid integration was the only viable option. Chromosomal integration technologies and systems that target DNA did create discussion surrounding the kill switch, specifically the use of alternative kill switch systems that could chew up the genetic material included in our plasmids.

Meeting with Professor Firbank

In our search for panelists for the synthetic biology symposium, we contacted Professor Firbank from the University of Leeds. As Prof. Firbank is an expert on the risk assessment of GMOs and a member of European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) GMO panel, the meeting with him allowed us to have an understanding of the process that would be carried out in the approval and evaluation of our sunscreen.

In the discussion about our product, it became evident that for our sunscreen to be eventually produced and made available to the public, it would be necessary for our biosafety mechanisms to be absolutely functional and the kill-switch would have to work 100% of the time. As the bacteria in our sunscreen would be released into the environment, we would have to consider every aspect of the dangers posed by the release of the genetically modified organisms, such as horizontal gene transfer. Prof. Firbank also informed us of the 3-step experimental process carried out to test GMOs for their eventual release into the environment and recommended us to research the EFSA and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment for information about the approval of the use of GMOs. Additionally, as Prof. Firbank had agreed to be a panelist for our symposium, he suggested that we should have a focused topic to be discussed during the symposium rather than a general one regarding GMOs and that case studies should be presented during the event.

The meeting with Prof. Firbank was important as his recommendations regarding the symposium topics and targeted audience resulted in a successful and informative forum. Additionally, the meeting was significant in the development of the bio-safety and bio-security aspects of our project and it also gave us a realistic timeline that would pertain to the approval of the sunscreen and its production for the market.

Meeting with Louisa Laing

In collaboration with Manchester, we contacted a multitude of sustainable sunscreen companies. We wanted to gain some insights into the industry, and the creation of a sustainable sunscreen. Louise Laing, founder of People4Ocean and marine biologist, was kind enough to talk about her company and customers, and gave us suggestions for our product.

She recommended using words such as “probiotic” and “organic” to attract this industry and suggested we take time trying to find the right message that will appeal to the majority of people. She also mentioned that the biggest customer group for people4ocean was at the ages between 30-40 due to higher purchasing power and so another advantage for us is that synthetic biology is cheaper than producing chemical formulation.

We also gained new perspectives on zinc oxide. We were wondering why there was so few non nano-particulate zinc oxide sunscreen on the market, but Louise informed is that no sunscreen is nano-particle free as zinc oxide naturally clumps together and so people4ocean do not market their product as nano-free (5% contain nano particles). The risk factors with nano-particulate zinc oxide therefore still pose a risk to corals, even though they are reduced, making it even more adamant to develop different reef-safe sunscreens.

Image: meeting with Louisa Laing

Meeting with Cornelia Schürch, Head of Development and Compliance at Mibelle biochemistry

Dr. Schürch is currently the head of Development and Compliance at Mibelle biochemistry. She has worked on the development of Helioguard, a sunscreen containing Micropsorine-like amino acids similar to “Shinorine”.

The meeting with Dr. Schürch was very valuable to shaping our project since we gained insights that affected the entrepreneurial aspirations of the project. In our conversation, she explained the difficulty in achieving high concentrations of MAAs from algae extraction to provide adequate protection and that this is why there are no purely MAA sunscreen products on the market. This made us realise that were we to ever bring Shinescreen to the market, it would likely have to be as an anti-photoaging product rather than a sunscreen, as Dr. Shürch had done with Helioguard. Moreover, Dr. Schürch made us aware of the very extensive process to ever get a sunscreen such as ours approved for use.

This will influence how we will approach our phase two of the project. It highlights that we should focus more on creating a proof of concept rather than aiming for a finished product.

Meeting with Professor in Dermatology

We were able to meet up with a Professor in Dermatology because our partner Manchester kindly arranged this meeting and invited us along. We prepared questions beforehand and interviewed her together. She has asked to remain anonymous on our Wiki.

In her opinion, our projects take a significant step towards producing reef-safe sunscreens. She also highlighted that sunscreens are classed as cosmetics in the UK, and thus regulations are less tightly restricted compared to in the US. Therefore, development in the United Kingdom would be more rapid to produce our sunscreen platform.

Moreover, the Professor is very interested in the photo-sensitivity patient treatment angle. She saw permanent integration into the microbiome as a benefit, as it would be a benefit to people with photo-sensitivity conditions such as Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) who can barely go outside. This is very interesting, as we had previously considered this as one of our biggest risk, and therefore have extensively focused on developing a killswitch to prevent integration into the microbiome. It was therefore very interesting to get this different perspective, and a positive dual use for our technology.

Lastly, the Professor suggested doing human practices activities to educate people on how to wear sunscreen, as many sunscreen’s lack of effectiveness is due to human behaviour and application. She suggested that it would be good to examine ways to overcome this gap, and educate people on this subject. This is something which we plan to work on as part of human practices in the second phase of our project, next summer.

Public and Entrepreneurial stakeholders

Lastly, of course, there is another essential stakeholder: the public. We have extensively focused on getting public and possible consumer opinion on our project and product through both our surveying, explored more here and our synthetic biology discussion forum, explored more in the Synthetic Biology Forum section. Moreover, we met with several entrepreneurial stakeholders to help us on our entrepreneurial journal, which we elaborate on here.

Twitter Sentiment Analysis

Shinescreen Case Study

Coralware Application

Image: Coralware Application on an Android device

Why are We Making an App?

Although the toxic effects to marine environments of many sunscreen ingredients are well characterised, information available tends to lack accuracy or omit sources justifying their claims. A further complication is the multitude of ingredients in sunscreens. Consequently, an exhaustive search of ingredient is time-consuming and strenuous. We decided, therefore, to create an app that informs consumers about the contents of their sunscreen. Our app, CoralWare, allows its users to take a photo of the ingredients list of a sunscreen, and then using optical character recognition, the ingredient list is analysed, and a summary is provided to the user.

Although apps allowing consumers to analyse the ingredients of their cosmetics already exist, we noticed that the information on the environmental impacts were lacking as information tended to focus on human health impacts. With a focus on the marine impact of sunscreens, the app focuses on environmental impact, although we do supply some information on the health impacts where relevant.

However, this app is not intended to direct consumers on buying, for much research on sunscreen components is contested, and long-term studies on their effects, limited. Rather, our goal is to raise awareness of current research and allow them to make their own decisions based on clear, nonbiased information such as that given by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Design of the App


The app was designed in Android Studio to run on 98% of android devices. Designed along similar lines to ‘Beat the Micro Bead’, a software which scans ingredients lists for potential microplastics adverse to consumer health, Coralware uses optical character recognition (OCR) to screen the ingredients lists from common sunscreens and compare entries to an SQLite database of ingredients, discussed below. Users are informed of potentially damaging ecological compounds and given links to the Environmental Working Group and papers.


The application uses Google’s Firebase APIs in its OCR classes to declare an OCR object and convert it to text. This text is displayed in an editable text element which permits users to perform any manual changes. Current difficulties in the application is the image resolution – the conversion of photographs from the gallery or camera occasionally generate low-resolution bitmaps, impairing the OCR scanner from detecting text.


After text has been captured and saved, individual ingredients are separated and matched against the inbuilt SQLite database containing ingredient entries and their correlated class and information. If the match for a given column should return true, a cursor displays the information for that row in a summary activity.


Currently, the application wants a learning mechanism to add new entries to its database, thereby adapting to novel or unaccounted compounds. Consequently, any compounds scanned on the sunscreen label absent from the database are ignored. Extensive efforts were thus taken to accommodate any synonymous compound names and expand the search space of the app.

Classification of Ingredients

During our research, we identified three main families of ingredients that are of the most concern. These are organic UV filters, microplastics and parabens. Each of these pose a different threat to marine ecosystems.

Organic UV filters

Organic UV filters are the main focus of our project, as it is becoming increasingly clear that they are negatively impacting corals by increasing stress on corals and therefore making them more susceptible to bleaching events. Our app flags up all UV filters in a sunscreen, and links the Environmental Working Group’s information on each compound, as well as providing a short summary into the current research into this compound and links to our peer reviewed sources.


Through our research we also discovered that not only are parabens potentially harmful to human health through disruption of endocrine function, but that they also may be damaging marine ecosystems (Pedersen et al., 2008; Yamamoto et al., 2011). In our app we flag up the human health concerns – some parabens have been banned in the EU due to concerns that they may mimic oestrogen in the human body and in doing so disrupt development, particularly in early childhood (European Commision, 2014).


While researching different sunscreen ingredients, a member of our team noticed the prevalence of ‘copolymers’ and ‘crosspolymers’ of different types, and upon researching these, it was found that in fact these synthetic polymers do not biodegrade and contribute to the build-up of microplastics in the ocean. While the build up of plastic on land and in landfill is a significant problem in its own right, microplastics in cosmetics are also an important issue. Because cosmetics are applied directly to the skin, they are much more likely to be washed into waterways, whether in wastewater or through swimming.

The Beat the Microbead campaign by the plastic soup foundation has made a Red List of over 500 different microplastics found in cosmetics, all of which have been inputted into our app and will be flagged to consumers. Some of these synthetic polymers are ‘microbeads’ - small solid pieces of plastic found in cosmetics designed to be abrasive against the skin and therefore give the cosmetic exfoliating properties. There has been a lot of media attention about microbeads building up in the ocean, leading to a ban on microbeads in the EU. However, many products still contain synthetic polymers such as carbomer or acrylamide. The lack of awareness about the existence of these synthetic polymers means that companies can declare themselves ‘microbead free’ while still incorporating smaller synthetic polymers into their products.


We created a database of common sunscreen ingredients, starting with all UV filters listed by the EU as being safe for use in sunscreen. We then added links to PubMed and the EWG, as well as adding in synonyms to ensure that the ingredients would be recognised by the app if listed under a different name.

A short description was written for each ingredient based on the availability of literature describing the recognised environmental effects of each ingredient, as well as the information provided on the EWG of the environmental toxicity. The ingredient is then categorised into one of four groups:

Preliminary classification Example
AMBER – this ingredient may cause environmental damage, but research is so far inconclusive Amiloxate is a chemical UV filter found in sunscreen. Primarily a UVB filter, it also provides some protection against UVA. It is a newer UV filter molecule, approved in the EU but not in the USA. Due to this, studies of its effects on the environment are limited, although its similarity in structure and function to octinoxate suggests that it would have a negative effect on coral reef structures.
GREY – lack of research into ingredient means environmental effects are unknown Ensulizole is a UV filter found in sunscreens. There is little data on the environmental impact of this chemical, however some studies have detected ensulizole in marine ecosystems and there is concern about the long-term effects.
RED – this ingredient is known to be harmful to the environment Oxybenzone is an active ingredient in many sunscreen products absorbing UVA II and UVB radiation. Although reducing the risk of DNA damage and cancer, the compound is an environmental contaminant implicated to participate in coral bleaching effects whilst also accumulating in many fish species participating in the global food chain. It has been banned in Hawaii beginning 2021 and there are many different studies pointing to a potential role in coral reef decline.


European Commision (2014) Press release: Consumers: Commission improves safety of cosmetics. Available at: (Accessed: 22 October 2020).

Pedersen, K. L. et al. (2008) ‘The Preservatives Ethyl-, Propyl- and Butylparaben are Oestrogenic in an in vivo Fish Assay’, Pharmacology & Toxicology, 86(3), pp. 110–113. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0773.2000.pto860303.x.

Yamamoto, H. et al. (2011) ‘Aquatic toxicity and ecological risk assessment of seven parabens: Individual and additive approach’, Science of the Total Environment. Elsevier B.V., 410–411, pp. 102–111. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.09.040.


Image: Outreach Project: "Antibiotics Under Our Feet"

St Andrews iGEM has collaborated with ‘Antibiotics Under Our Feet’: an outreach project within the University of St Andrews funded by the Wellcome Trust. The project aims to extend science capital in students 8-11 years of age in primary schools in Fife, Scotland. Antibiotics Under Our Feet will integrate key principles of the pupils curriculum, alongside additional science basics, to further their understanding of concurrent themes surrounding biology. The project further aims to raise capital in primary school teachers through co-ownership of the citizen science project.

In previous years, the students have collected soil samples in areas surrounding their local community for metagenomic data analysis and novel antibiotic screening, completed by the University of St Andrews. Our iGEM team has helped develop an understanding of the complex processes involved in the soil analysis by creating a simple lab-based video to describe the method in a simplified manner. In addition to discussion of the method, key biological principles such as DNA, base pairing and bacterial ubiquity have been introduced. By including this content, it is hoped that an increased interest in biology can be developed in the overall population, reducing the many associated complexities.

Antibiotics Under Our Feet: Part 1 - Safety and Sampling

Antibiotics Under Our Feet: Part 2 – DNA Extraction and Sequencing

Antibiotics Under Our Feet: Part 3 - Growing and Viewing Bacteria

In addition to the video content, St Andrews iGEM have further helped design the soil sample sheet with information such as bacterial species, geographic coordinates and photos of the sampling site. It is hoped that pupils can transfer numeracy and problem-solving skills to look at data including pie charts and bar charts as well as the ability to interpret information about their own samples. Previous sample submissions can be found at

Synthetic Biology Forum

Image: Forum Poster"


At the end of August our team hosted an Online SynBio Forum on the provocative topic “Will GMOs shape the future of humanity”. Five experts from different realms of science discussed this topic and lots of other questions related to their individual research, synthetic biology and iGEM. The event was delivered through the Zoom webinar service which was supplemented with live streaming on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. With the implementation of Facebook and LinkedIn advertising, social media posting, and professional networking, the forum reached an impressive audience of more than 2300 viewers from all over the world.

The event allowed for a feedback loop between the speakers, and the public. We were provided with the opportunity to educate attendees on GMOs, and in turn we received their views on GMOs to use in our market research. Moreover, we were able to measure if our forum had a significant effect on changing their opinion on GMOs, giving us feedback on the impact of our event.


Our aim was to engage ordinary people with synthetic biology, popularising its great potential. Considering the unusual situation in the world, the only way to reach them was through the Internet. After much deliberation, our team made a brave decision to organise a panel discussion where experts would share their opinion on important synbio-related problem. At first, we considered a debate between the experts on opposing sides of the field but decided this may be harder to invoke and less engaging with the audience. In the end we decided upon a simple discussion between the panel members, with live interactions and questions from the audience. A panel size of around 5 experts was considered ideal, and so we began organisations by contacting as many potentially suitable candidates as possible, asking about their willingness to participate and availability.


The topic of GMOs is a controversial one among the current society with connotations of killer sweetcorns or apples on drugs. But do people really understand the term or realise the endless possibilities genetic engineering creates? Could GMOs be the solution of environmental degradation and the renaissance of healthcare or do they pose a danger? Will they shape the future of humanity?/p>

And this last question which we bravely asked ourselves was chosen among the others to be the topic of the forum.


Professor Les Firbank PhD FRSB

Les Firbank is an agro-ecologist. He was brought up on a small farm in northern England, took a degree in zoology before researching into interactions between farming and the environment. His early work focussed on weeds and crops, before moving to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology where he led large scale studies on the environmental effects of set-aside, organic farming. He is now Professor in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Leeds, addressing the sustainable intensification of agriculture. He first engaged with GMOs in 1999, and led the UK’s largest field study of the environmental effects of GMOs (2000-2005). He has been a member of ACRE, and is a member of the EFSA GMO panel, and is chairing the working group looking at the regulation of e=gene drive modified insects.

Dr Chris Hooley

Chris Hooley is a Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics at the University of St Andrews, and Operations Director of the Scottish Doctoral Training Centre in Condensed Matter Physics. His research concerns the collective behaviour of large aggregates of quantum particles.  It applies to a range of quite disparate physical settings: electrons in superconductors, cold atoms trapped by lasers, and even the interiors of neutron stars and black holes. Chris has been a co-supervisor of the St Andrews iGEM team since 2010, the first year in which St Andrews took part in the competition. His iGEM-relevant expertise lies in the computational modelling of both biochemical processes within bacterial cells and the larger-scale behaviour of aggregates of such bacteria.

Professor Louise Horsfall

Louise Horsfall is a Chair of Sustainable Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in applying synthetic biology to improve the sustainability of biological processes and products. Louise holds a MChem from the University of Oxford, a DEA and a PhD in Biochemistry from the Université de Liège, Belgium. She worked as a research associate at the University of Leeds and the University of Glasgow before joining Edinburgh in May 2012. She is the elected co-chair of the Bioengineering and Bioprocessing Section of the European Federation of Biotechnology, a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland and sustainability theme lead.


Current research in synthetic biology: Bacterial metal homoeostasis and resistance by nanoparticle production, identification of methods and development of synthetic biology tools for control of production and quality.  Degradation of lignin to aromatic feedstock chemicals, application and development of a synthetic biology platform for metal dependent enzymes.

Dr Richard Harbottle

Dr Richard Harbottle is the head of the DNA Vector Research Group in German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ). Since 2008 his research has focused on generating novel, next-generation DNA vectors for gene therapy. His group has developed a vector system, which is uniquely suited for the genetic modification of cells – it provides persistent expression and episomal maintenance without the use of potentially toxic viral components or the risk of insertional mutagenesis. Richard Harbottle graduated with BSc in Biochemistry from the University of St Andrews. In the following years he received a MSc in Human Molecular Genetics and PhD in Molecular Genetics from Imperial College London.

Slavena Todorova

Slavena Todorova has graduated from Sofia University with Molecular Biology and is currently doing her Masters degree in Medical Genetics and Genomics in the University of Glasgow. Her research is focused on Genetics, Cancer and Microbiology.

Slavena was a part of After iGEM and participated in the Bulgaria iGEM team. She has experience as a STEM Ambassador and a chemistry teacher in

After confirmation of the panel and the date of the event, we immediately proceeding with advertising. Popularising the forum was a significant part of the organisation process and indeed was a vital measure of the event’s success.

We used several different methods to gather as wide an audience as possible. Through our LinkedIn page we aimed to reach professionals in our current network, through our Facebook we informed close family and friends, through our Instagram we communicated with our current followers, and through iGEM What’s App groups we gained the support of our fellow iGEMers. We additionally created ‘events’ through LinkedIn and Facebook and decided to use paid advertising services to promote the page, accessing a relevant external audience which may otherwise be inaccessible.

Image: Engagement Metrics

In addition, we took advantage of our successful collaborations within the iGEM network as the teams of Manchester University, UNSW and Hainan helped us sharing the Facebook event. Before finalising the date, we ensured there were no clashes in the iGEM calendar to ensure as much iGEM participation as possible.

Even accounting for all this, we were concerned about our attendance. For one, it was easier for people to attend the event from the comfort of their own home, without having to travel to the presenting location. However, this equally made it easier to pass over the event or leave half-way through. From research and personal experience, we knew people would be more inclined to attend with some sort of external motive. In many similar in-person webinars or conferences this comes in the form of free coffee and compliments. An online event had both advantages and disadvantages in this regard. We instead chose to encourage people to share and attend our event by introducing giveaways with real prizes both prior to the event and during.

Image: Giveaway

The prizes for the ‘best question’ had the dual purpose of encouraging engagement during the webinar. Congratulations to Michael Dodds who won a luxury cheese hamper from, to Sarah Willich who won Nessa Carey’s ‘Hacking the Code of Life: How Gene Editing Will Rewrite Our Futures’ and to Yatish ___ who won of ‘A Crack in Creation’ by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg.

Image: Prizes

Structure and Proceedings

To ensure smooth proceedings, comprehensive scripting and preparation was done prior to the event. Each member of the team was assigned a role which consisted of: chair, to present and guide the forum discussion; Q&A supervisor, to keep track of audience questions and ensure all are answered; poll supervisor, to listen intently to the discussion and post provocative, relevant and engaging poll questions throughout; social media supervisor, to monitor our live streaming services and responds to interactions via these platforms; co-host, to provide specific support to the chair on potential issues; and the secretary, to provide support to any other member of the team should they need it.

After the opening speech and welcoming the audience, the event started with the introductions from the speakers and some specific questions related to their own research. The introductions were followed by a five-minute break and during which some preprepared polls were released.

While questions form the audience were of priority, we directed the panel discussion with some planned questions to stimulate the conversation whenever necessary. However, the panel discussion began with a question from the audience about the ‘biggest misconception surround GMOs’ and Les Firbank, was the first to express his view. From there, the proceedings flowed without the need for much intervention. Other panellists would reply with their own opinions and the audience would engage as had hoped.

We utilised the Zoom premium webinar service where all participants were classified as either hosts, panellists, or attendees. Only hosts and panellists were visible to the audience but all attendees had the functionality to ask questions via the Q&A, chat to others in the audience, and virtually raise their hand. Engagement was strongly encouraged throughout the event. Whenever possible, we attempted to answer questions directly via replies in the Q&A chat but in the circumstance we could not, or it was directed specifically to the panel, we gave the questioner the opportunity speak to the panellist directly. Equally, other members of the audience could reply to each other’s questions, if they felt they had a satisfactory answer. If other members of the audience believed a question was particularly interesting they could ‘upvote’ this to the top of the list so that questions were answered in order of importance (which also served to determine the winner of the ‘best question’).

The discussion was wrapped up with an iGEM specific question about involvement with iGEM competition and the ease of accessibility was emphasised by both Slavena, and our own team members.

At the end of the event a short feedback survey was distributed. Any questions which remained unanswered due to time constraints were followed up on by emailing the panel and posting answers to such open questions on our social media platforms as well emailing the questioners directly.

Image: Screenshot of Forum

The introductions were followed by a five-minute break and during which a couple of polls were released. The panel discussion began with Les Firbank, whose research is focused on GMOs specifically, being the first to speak on the topic. The other panellists were able to express their view, as well, before opening the question to the entire panel and floor. Finally, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions. At the end of the event a short feedback survey was distributed.

Polls and Survey Report

A survey was carried out at the end of the synthetic biology forum as an analysis of the organisation of the event as well as the outcome of the participants opinions on GMO’s following the discussion. Although the forum reached greater numbers through live streaming (mainly in Facebook) only the attendants of the Zoom meeting could respond to our survey. Out of the 10 responses we received from the polls:

  • 90% of said that they were more interested in GMOs after the forum than compared to before (1)
  • 30% said that they would now be comfortable purchasing and using a GMO product while (2)
  • 40% said they were more open to the idea of the commercialised use of GMOs but I still had some doubts (3)
  • 90% of the responders stated that they learned new information during the event and that they were more interested in GMOs after the forum (4)

Image: Survey Results

The polls carried out during the event pertained to questions regarding the use of GMOs and allowed us to further analyse its perception in the public as well as their opinion on cosmetics and therapeutics containing GMOs. Out of the 18 responses received:

  • 50% said that they would be willing to use GMO containing cosmetic products
  • 50% said that they would depending on the product

Image: Survey Results

These results give a qualitative indication of the viability of ‘Shinescreen’ on the market if it were to be produced.

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