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human practices learning from others

human practices by: Stefania Luengas

We are growing scientists in the making living in a developing country with endless high quality human resources. As such, we strongly believe that our social contribution should center in sharing our knowledge to establish a direct dialogue with the coffee growers. Not only as a means to evaluate the scenario where our genetically engineered machine may act as well as their willingness to use it, but to understand their daily work practices in order to orient our design to their needs. With this in mind, we came up with clear objectives and design activities accordingly. We began with opening their academic horizons, by lecturing them about biology and new plague control systems. We also addressed the future market when visiting local schools, realizing kids may be more open minded and curious. Other objectives were the integration of our team with the target community and the divulgation of synthetic biology’s principles through our project. The meetings with the coffee growers were made possible by the association “Federación Nacional de Cafeteros” from the rural towns of Supatá and Sasaima. We had two meetings in each location: the first one to show the basic concepts of biology (cells, DNA, protein, and molecular biology). In the second one our main focus was to review and have activities regarding biotechnology, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and genetically modified organisms (GMO), iGEM, our project, and previous iGEM team’s projects as well.

These last visits were particularly difficult since we had to adjust the information to a public with low academic education levels. With this in mind, we designed fun activities that allowed them to come up with specific problem solving oriented organisms first handedly. We also wanted to encourage discussions about GMO’s, their advantages, general misconceptions, as well as their current situation in Colombia. We ended each visit with surveys as a feedback mechanism with information about their understanding of our message and their opinions about it.

how we began

Ever since we decided to carry on a social activity, I was convinced that we should target a community in need, specifically in the rural area. I identified necessities that, if given a solution, would improve their life quality substantially. In order to do this, we needed the help of the Federation to establish a serious connection with the coffee growers in our area. We selected the two groups with the most professional and industrial profile with the largest crop areas. We also got in touch with a more modest group with a basic academic background where some of its members do not know how to read or write. We designed two sessions with each group, together with a final survey in order to evaluate our progress with them. During our school visits we were lectured two different grades about basic biological and molecular theories and designed activities to make them think about synthetic biology. We are still waiting for confirmation for further visits. Once again we use surveys as feedback to our activities.

Personally I’ve found very gratifying to have been able to outreach into such important communities, to have built a space for dialogue and reflection. I loved to learn from them knowledge: the phenomenological process of coffee growing, their huge understanding of plant physiology, and how to use other plants in order to mitigate plagues. I was shocked by their humility when attending our lectures, since they were able to leave their notions aside with the sole purpose of learning. They also shared their experience in a way that a scientist may never have discovered by his own. I feel very happy to have had the opportunity to make part of iGEM Colombia’s human practices and I wish I could continue to do so.

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I found my experience with the coffee growers to be extremely rewarding. Our first challenge was to prepare keynote presentations and activities that would effectively transmit our knowledge in molecular and synthetic biology in an interesting and fun way. By doing this I realized that in order to communicate with someone, you first have to place yourself in that someone’s position. We also had the chance to work with different people: from children from a coffee grower zone rural school, to company level coffee producers and their extensionists. The Colombian Coffee Federation extensionists are people that visit coffee producing farms on a daily basis to guide them in their crop handling thus guaranteeing its high quality. During our oral presentations I felt that we had established a knowledge based dialogue between us lecturers and our audience. I would talk to them from my study and university experience, while they would answer with their technical field experiences. We brought these feelings to the team at Bogotå and we considered them as feedback for some aspects of our project.

Vivian Bernal


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When we had the opportunity to interact with the coffee producers, we were able to explain the way the problem was identified and the way we were attacking it. It was delightful to see that all of them were able to fully understand what we are doing and the benefits that they would have if the expected result were reach. The coffee producers were so exited, that they gave us their e-mails so we could have constant contact with them. We could construct a partnership in which they help us with all their knowledge while we were looking for a solution to one of their biggest problems. Thereby, we design an activity in which the coffee makers had to construct a genetic circuit. The activity had pleasant results, due to the fact that they came with huge ideas that could help us. Moreover, they proved that the important thing is not to be a master or the art but to be interested in the art.

Daniela Olivera

When we were said that we will show to the farmers our iGEM´s project we got so excited because they are the most affected by this innovation using synthetic biology for resolve problems in agriculture. But for be able to teach what is our project about and how it works is necessary to teach basic biology concepts and we were thinking our public will get bored or confused about it so our main objective was do our best for teach biology in the easiest way because the most of the people doesn’t have a higher education level (with dynamic activities, examples and simplifying concepts). Furthermore, we had to be ready for the polemic and views that most of people have about the last science innovations implying genetic engineering and synthetic biology. During the presentation with questions and at the end of the presentation we could confirm trough an inquiry and dynamic activities that the most of the people assisting to the presentation was highly interested in the subject and understood the most of the subjects in Biology, the definition of synthetic biology and our project. For our surprise, the people was highly interested, asking for further information been sent to them and even inviting us to test our project in their coffee grows. In their words: ¨We don’t want this project just stay in papers or just in a presentation, we want to see this project applied to our grows and helping us to improve our production¨ question which we answered: ¨Our biggest wish is that one, and this is why we are working so much because we want to do something for help the people of our country (that is mostly based in agriculture)¨

Diana Wilches y Javier Vargas

caficultores empresariales

pequeños y medianos caficultores

The development of these activities took place on Saturday, July 7th and September 1st. For this, we performed activities of socialization with the community in two different points of the town of Supatá at Mesitas and at the settlement ¨El Imparal¨. At these points we carried out an informative process through conferences, which were complemented with playful activities and their respective feedbacks. It is important to mention that spaces to share knowledge and solve doubts were given by coffee growers associations.

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Meeting point # 1 (Settlement ¨Mesitas¨) The meeting stared around 10:00 am and 21 coffee farmers from the area showed up. A presentation was given in order to illustrate the concept of synthetic biology. This part of the process was a real challenge due to the fact that these crowds haven’t heard about it ever and that most of the people who attended hardly finish middle school. So, we had to start by teaching basic concepts of biology such as the cell. At the end of the presentation they made the following questions: • • • • •

The idea is good, but this could be more expensive for us? If it is, how much more? The bacteria can attack other things like insects? This mechanism is going to be effective only against the rust (Hemileia vastatrix)? If we apply this in our crops, the bacteria can affect humans too? When do the trials start in crops?

Meeting point # 2 (Settlement ¨El Imparal¨) Along this process, around 13 coffee farmers from the area assisted whom, after carefully listen to the conference and actively participate in the proposed activities, made the following questions: • Is it possible that this bacterium is beneficial for the coffee, but is there a possibility that it could be harmful for other products? • Is it feasible that the bacterium can accompany the plant since it is a seed? • Is there a possibility of injecting the bacterium in the stem instead of in the leaves? • How to induce the plant to defend itself? On the other hand, the audience made the following recommendations: • If it could be possible to make a similar product for the “Coffee borer beetle” (Broca) it would be very helpful. • Please continue with this project since it is very productive and useful for the farming. It is important to highlight the great acceptation that was seen towards the system besides the availability for support future products tests.


The work in the laboratory and out of it is completely different, I would like to say that during our journey all things where great but it wasn’t, the arrival to Supata was a complete disaster, because of a misunderstanding I arrived to the wrong place and not to mention the time at which we had to leave Bogota. By the other hand the things started to turn better with the passage of time, it was extremely rewarding observe that then of this trip the coffee growers showed friendly, interested and attentive to the talk. This activities, at least in my case, led us relate the laboratory with the world out there, it was a great experience.

Cesar Quintana

The group of coffee growers with who we had the opportunity to work was composed by people from the municipality of ¨Supatá¨. The people who participated in the activity were mostly people with a low level of studies because the most of them didn’t know how to read or write. Our presentation was about basic concepts about iGEM and about our iGEM´s project but it had a lot of letters and it wasn´t adapt for people with low levels of education. That’s why I think the presentation wasn’t enough simple and clear for them and that they didn’t understood clearly the message we wanted to convey to them. Despite of that, the group was highly open to the innovations and options we were showing to them, because coffee plantations are their only economic support and any option that allows them to make their grows more efficient in the same way is going to improve their quality of life. I loved this activity because being in contact with so hard worker people shows us the importance

Juanita Lara

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My partner -Daniel Giraldo- and I had the opportunity to work with coffee growers from the settlement ¨Mesitas¨ in the town of ¨Supatá¨. The meeting was difficult because of two reasons. First one, the place where we presented our project was a store on the road. Although we had our own video projector, they did not have projection screen and the outdoors daylight conditions did not allow us getting good images of the slides. Besides, we did not have chairs for our listeners. Anyways, we deal with the situation putting some white cardboard on the wall of the store and using some chairs from there. Second, the group of people that we were working had two special characteristics: they were seniors and didn´t know to read and write. Thus, we prepared our slides and presentation: i) using only images, ii) using simple language and concepts, and iii) making contrast with usual situations. This allowed us to exchange ideas at same level. Moreover, it made us realize about the situation that we try to solve in a laboratory from a realistic point of view. The presentation lasted 90 minutes and coffee growers had the opportunity to solve some doubts about the project. They asked about functionality, effectiveness and environmental and human risks. At the end, they took us to a coffee growing and showed us healthy coffee plants and some others with rust. I think that this experience taught me that it´s necessary to have in account all the stakeholders in solutions searching. This time, we (as students) proposed a solution for the problem of phytopathogens that attack coffee plants. Thus, to complement our solution, we had in account the coffee grower from the region. I think that both sides (coffee growers and students) took advantage of this type of events because they helped to focus our project to a real solution. On the other hand, it gave to coffee growers confidence to use the proposed solution because they are aware of the development of this. Andrés Simbaqueva

On the way to Supata there was a lot of expectancy to find out where we were going and to whom we were going to talk to. The road to Mesitas, the little settlement we were visiting, wasn´t paved and the ride was a little rough. When we finally got there, we found out that we were giving our talk in the porch of a house that is also the town’s store. We had to make a screen out of a white cardboard. The group we were going to present to was composed by women, children and men of all ages. I had thought that the coffee growers were mostly men, so it was very surprising to see that of the people attending were women. At first we began talking about very basic concepts about biology, and it felt like the coffee growers really got the idea. However, as we began to advance into more difficult topics, it became clear to me and my partner that we weren´t really conveying the information the way we intended. We tried using different examples and really trying to simplify everything as much as we could, but at the end I felt that we had failed to explain everything we wanted to. For me it was a really interesting experience being able to go there and talk to this people about science. It made me realize how difficult it is to convey information to people who are not as familiar as I am with different topics such as biology and chemistry. Most of the people, who attended our talk, if not all, didn’t know how to read or write, and although we were aware of this fact and we tried to make our presentation as dynamic and illustrated as we could, it became clear there that it hadn’t been enough. However, I didn’t feel like it was all a waste of time, I think they got a better idea or became more aware of transgenic organisms, which is something that is very common to them even if they dritwidn’t know it. As for my personal experience, I got the chance to see firsthand how the rust (Hemileia vastatrix) affects coffee plantations. Talking to a coffee grower I got a better idea of the things that really worry to them, and found out that they feel they are just going through the motions due to lack of information about the seeds and products they have to use in their plantations, that´s why I think this spaces where they are given talks about innovations to improve the quality of the coffee and the soil are very important both for them as coffee growers and for us as scientists. Daniel Giraldo

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Our contact to the coffee community was not only with growers and children from this community, but we got in touch with the “extensionistas” from “Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros”. These persons are agriculture professionals and they give establishment, maintaining and quality practices for coffee growing. The meeting was made in a beautiful place in the middle of the country (named “Magdalena medio”), and the knowledge interchange was awesome. We talked about molecular interactions between plant and pathogene, synthetic biology, and our project. On the other hand, they talked about agricultural techniques used in coffee crops. At the end of the meeting, we used their advices as a feedback for our project based on their practical knowledge.

human practices learning from others

Human Practices iGEM Colombia Team  

Journal of iGEM team experiences with farming communities

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