Human Practices

What are our values?

We based our choice of project in a set of values that characterize our team as a whole. As here in Crete we are in constant touch with nature, we prioritized the environment and tried to protect it in many aspects. Inspired by the many endemic species of our island, we focused on the maintenance of biodiversity, which will be possible since by early tracing the infected plants, we can stop the widespread of viruses and the protection of wildlife. Moreover, we aimed at the conservation of resources which include the reduction of the wasted food that could, and should, have been utilized. The social and moral aspects of our project include the freedom that is given to farmers acquired by being able to test their crops themselves, the respect to the environment that our decade-long self sustainable plan pays (it will be analyzed in the following paragraph ”Decision to Choose Conservation Track and how is it good for the world? ”), the accountability that we show to the future users and the responsibility that characterizes our approach to every aspect of the project. Furthermore, the equality among countries is promoted as our kit will be affordable and ready to be shipped in developing countries, reducing the food crisis by saving enormous quantities of crops taking into consideration the reduction of the food wasted, that could have been saved by early diagnosis. Last, but not least, we believe that the communication and education of the community should be a primary concern of every scientist, since it allows the general public to understand and demystify the inner values and dogmata of science. As for the scientific values,we aspire the LRRs to be incorporated in the literature as a diagnostic tool. We see them as an opportunity to revolutionize immunobiology and can foresee their implementations paving the way to easier, cheaper and more accurate diagnosis.

Decision to Choose Conservation Track and how is it good for the world?

It is a common secret that humanity has devastated and trivialized the environment unprecedentedly. Animal behavior disruption and flora and fauna extinction are everyday phenomena and everyone remains unbothered as long as their unceasing, humancentric lust is satisfied. Humanity has undermined ecosystems both quantity- and quality- wise, exploiting natural resources without a single intent of reciprocity. Even though, recently, animal protection movements are sprouting, the vital role of plants is often forgotten, leaving them out of the equation. We forget, or even worse, we pretend not to remember, that plants are the foundational organisms that enable all others to exist, including humans. Especially humans. Such life promoting, energy utilizing, peace and beauty inducing, climate regulating, medicine implemented organisms should be appreciated and be taken care of, in the most prolific way possible. We, as iGEM Crete, believe that the solution lies in the field of synthetic biology. A field that needs to be demystified, rather than being taken by fear, as it is today. Its promising possibilities should be the key to achieve efficient protection of the environment and an eco-friendly way of living respectfully both to our great ‘home’ and to our friendly ‘neighbors’. We deeply believe that there should be a universal implementation of the tools that synthetic biology has to offer and that it is the best, realistic way to preserve and to bequeath as beautiful an environment as the one we inherited. After all, the planet is what we all have in common.  

A great problem that conservation efforts and policies face is how to keep the biodiversity intact. Biodiversity can be limited both by human and by non-human factors, such as phytopathogens. There have been reported phytopathogens in forests and wild ecosystems. One of them is TSWV as its spread maps pinpoint. A current theory suggests that the cause of their spread is pollen of nearby crops or nearby tossed crops. It is a problem that has to be addressed on its very root, and that is exactly what we do with our diagnostic kit. It can very fast and with very low cost, diagnose infected plants, thus allowing us to reduce the phytopathogens in wild ecosystems. 

 Will this diagnostic tool be limited to TSWV? Or does it give us the possibility of a massive phytopathogen diagnosis? Is there a sustainable plan that will enable us to materialize our vision? Do you have these questions? Because so did we, and that's how we came up with our implementation plan (check it out!).

Build a diverse team

From its very early steps, this year’s team was a diverse one in terms of nationality, religion, sexuality and academic goals, creating a comfortable and representative environment for everyone. We embody different nationalities like Armenian, Pontic Greeks, but also members of the lgbtq+ community and students of different departments of the University of Crete. We have multireligious members from all around Greece, with different mindsets and ways of thinking and in a wide age window. All of the above established polyphony and while we interchanged ideas, we made sure that all of the opinions were not only heard, but thoroughly examined. Our varying academic backgrounds allowed us to expand our project to a wider extent while properly cooperating. Each one carried on the work of the field in which he was better qualified, maximizing our team’s full potential. The biology students provided knowledge in the lab and in communicating our project, reaching out to the community, experts and potential sponsors. The computer science students developed our amazing site and refined our graphics work and our advisor aided with his knowledge in material science. All this created an environment that promoted learning from one another as the older students were always happy to transmit their knowledge to the younger ones. Last but not least, it is noticeable that equality was obtained not only among the members but also between genders, as we consist of boys and girls in a ratio 1:1.

Explore context

Our older members suggested that we should create a context for our actions, in order to not deviate from our goals. By working in that context, we ensured that we will be in touch with the community and in harmony with the indispensable values, social, moral, scientific and environmental ones. Our initiatives, scientific and community related, were directed accordingly, helping us to maintain our focus. We reached out to the community with numerous actions all relevant with our project and our vision.

Brainstorm broadly

At the very beginning we conducted thorough research to find out interesting literature and topics that express our interests. We took into consideration our set of values, the needs of the local community and matters of global interest and tried to find projects that their implementation would fit all these criteria. We finally chose our project as it incorporates all of the above, benefit for our country and island, proaction of our ideals and address of environmental issues that plague our planet’s sensitive ecosystems. One thing that we could not get out of our minds was to eliminate any possible harm that our project could potentially cause. That's why we consulted bioethicists and local farmers in every step that we made. We made sure that our project's impact will be only beneficial.

Document progress

One of our main pursuits was to ensure that none of our results was biased. Early in the competition we decided that the documentation of our every move could be extremely beneficial. By trial and error we tried to learn from our mistakes and minimize them in the best way possible! We managed to accomplish a successful documentation by keeping a well organized and up to date calendar of our decisions and actions. Weekly meetings were of significant meaning for our team, because that is when the evaluation of each member took place. Additionally, every once in a while we took a step back in order to reassess the situation and make sure that our goals are compatible with the current needs of society.

Integrate insights: Which communities did we consult to ensure that our values are actually met?

During our journey in the iGEM competition we consulted numerous communities in order to ensure that our project meets our chosen values and that it is beneficial and responsible to society. Firstly, the support from our PIs was crucial, as they gave us access to all the research facilities we required for the development of our project, while they advised us in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the factors that would affect the design and application of our diagnostic in the field. We gathered the thoughts and feedbacks and always carefully planned our next steps with every consultation. 

Another crucial pillar of our strategy for improving our initial ideas was to meet with experts from specific scientific fields, which aroused several discussions that would highlight significant turning points or corroborate our plans. In order to do so we consulted professors concerning plant protection, pathology and virology. Also, a big concern of the Human Practices team was to guarantee the assurance of our environmental, moral and society values, which lead us to get in contact with the founding member and Director of the Graduate Program "Bioethics", and Director of the Bioethics Laboratory of the University of Crete, Professor Tsinorema Stauroula. 

Furthermore, we could not dismiss mutual consulting future stakeholders of our novel technology. So we kept in contact with students in the field of Agriculture and also leaders from small communities that rely mostly on crops. We not only constantly informed them about our results but also discussed and accepted their proposals. 

Finally, it was particularly important for us to create a network of people who would help us clarify our ideas and ambitions regarding our Human Practices planning. Thus, we were really thrilled to participate in a series of Workshops organized by The Human Practices Committee and iGEM Community Science Communication Steering Group in order to get a better insight on how to properly organize our work.

First Workshop:

Human Practices Workshop: Science Communication in Human Practices

In this webinar, we were trained by experts to familiarize ourselves with the popularization of science and its closeness to the public. We left this workshop full of knowledge and new ideas for the interactive promotion of scientific research. This training played a significant role in getting us closer to a successful close-the-loop, through creating surveys with targeted content. Other than that we enriched our future programming for the promotion of the project through artistic creations and simple experiments which we designed to achieve comprehensive communication and education with the public.

Second Workshop

Product Design in Human Practices: Treasure Hunting in the Synbio World

After applying what we had learned in the prior seminar, we were eager to improve our skills more and more! Since we had no idea what the term "treasure hunting" is about , this workshop was extremely informative to us. We received in-depth explanations of this concept, and realized that creating a novel technology from scratch is not simple at all! A distinct long-term vision is required. This vision must be realistically feasible at a practical-lab-level but also easy to use by the people to whom it is addressed. Finally, at every stage of planning, moral values ​​should never be forgotten.

Third Workshop

Maturity Model of Human Practices: How to Evaluate Your Progress on Human Practices?

As time passed and the workload grew, this last seminar came to the rescue! Motivated by the Maturity Model Concept we created a Human Practices Handbook, in which we compiled all of our past actions and evaluated them one by one. This Handbook played a critical role in our future Human Practices Implementation.

Closing the loop between what is designed and what is desired.

At this point of the Human Practices cycle we decided to apply our newly acquired knowledge from the first iGEM Workshop to try and closing the loop between what is designed and what is desired. Therefore we conducted some surveys in order to educe unbiased data that would aid us comprehend the public's point of view regarding our diagnostic tool. By doing so we could specifically target their doubts and then extinguish them one by one!

Survey results

A survey was held and the link was forwarded to students of our University. The topic in question was the awareness about the issue of new diagnostics techniques.

Would you be comfortable using a diagnostic that does not utilize antibodies, but a ‘secret’ protein?

72,2% of the participants declined the offer, as skepticism about that unknown protein and the fear of its unforeseeable consequences discourages them from using it. 

Would you be comfortable using a diagnostic that does not utilize antibodies, but a ‘secret’ protein if it was free?

68,5% of the participants answered that they would prefer it if it was free. That indicates the current situation in Greece, that multiple economic setbacks have resulted in prioritizing the financial benefit over the unsure and unpredictable potential danger.

Would you be comfortable using a diagnostic that does not utilize antibodies, but a ‘secret’ protein if it was better, though more expensive?

70,4% of the participants answered that they would not prefer it if it was better, though more expensive. This is expected, as the public can not afford taking the risk of such an investment, as they do not have all the parts of the equation.  

Would you be comfortable using a diagnostic that does not utilize antibodies, but the LRRs which you know are harmless for you and the environment? 

85,2% answered that they would utilize the LRRs. They are open to use LRRs, because now we revealed that the ‘secret’ protein is harmless for them and the environment.

Would you be comfortable using a diagnostic that does not utilize antibodies, but the LRRs which you know are harmless for you and the environment if the government supplied it for free/at a very low price?  

92,6% answered that they would prefer them at a lower price/for free, something that we expected. This option combines both human centric values such as the profit maximization and environmental values such as the use of non perilous for the environment techniques. 

Do you believe that the state should conduct campaigns to inform citizens about new, better techniques in the fields of medicine and immunobiology?

40,7% answered negatively and the rest 59,3% positively. The percentages are almost in balance even though the people that think it is a good policy are slightly more.The ones that disagree occupy a high percentage, which can be explained, by considering that such campaigns consume state funds. They probably believe that such information is too specific and that it should be acquired from specialists individually.


Dionysia Athanasopoulou

One of the specialists in agriculture we had the pleasure to meet with, was an agronomist Mrs. Dionysia Athanasopoulou. Mrs. Athanasopoulou has experience in the greenhouse industry and is in charge of one of Greece's biggest hydroponic tomato greenhouses. Our discussion focused on the difficulties of modern greenhouse industries to cope with plant pathogen infection. Specifically, even industries that afford to obtain resistant hybrid plants with increased productivity, are facing complications from resistant-breaking pathogens.

Therefore, one of the crucial measures that they take upon themselves is constant contact with specialists that inspect plants on an everyday basis to secure healthy produce. In case of a disease, they send samples to be tested and receive a diagnosis. Additionally, Mrs. Athanasopoulou informed us about the difficulty of distinguishing thrip bites, as they are commonly mistaken for discoloration caused by sunlight. For this reason, she emphasized the importance of an on-the-field diagnostic tool with immediate results and was thrilled to be informed about our endeavors. She was also keen on sending us samples of her plants for experimental testing in the unfortunate event that she comes across TSWV. We concluded our meeting mutually enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn from one another and eager for future discussions.

Elisavet Chatzivasiliou

Mrs. Chatzivasiliou is one of the top scientists in Greece studying TSWV. She is a perfect match for our project and was extremely helpful and informative in our virtual meeting. We discussed various aspects of our project and extracted useful information that we integrated into our project to make it better and more efficient. More specifically, she explained to us the significance of TSWV in agriculture and its resurface in Greece and especially in Crete.

This phenomenon is a consequence of the appearance of resistant breaking strains that neutralize the advantage of hybrid plants. She also underlined the sensitivity of TSWV’s virions which are unstable at 37 degrees Celcius and the importance of a rapid diagnostic tool to be used in the field. The farming industry would be more efficient given that early diagnosis of financially devastating pathogens comes at a low cost. Another subject we covered was the life cycle of thrips. Thrips are pests that are responsible for the spread of TSWV and they transform into adults inside the soil. For this reason, they are challenging to eliminate and pose a threat of infection, so they require thorough disinsectization. In our closing remarks, we underscored the superiority of early diagnosis instead of the tedious process of eliminating virus carriers like thrips.

Stavroula Tsinorema

From the very beginning of our journey in the competition, our initial goal was to introduce our moral values to the world as we were strongly concerned about the issues regarding the bioethical field around the globe. This is also one of the reasons that we were all really keen to work on a project that contributes to the minimization of the uneven distribution of resources in our planet. We were very interested in getting the opinion of someone expert in this area and see if our concerns were true. So we arranged a meeting with Mrs.Stavroula Tsinorema, professor of Modern and Newer Philosophy and Bioethics. This meeting left us deeply in awe as the problem had a greater extent than we expected. Mrs Tsinorema informed us that this field serves the autonomy of every human being. Bioethics is the greatest servant of human freedom and this is why legalizing bioethical rules ensures human freedom and acts as a brake on anyone who attempts to violate it.

Zoe Pentheroudaki

Zoe is a molecular plant biologist and a PhD candidate. She has worked the last two years on the interaction between viruses and viroids. During our session with her we had the chance to talk about TSWV as it was one of the virus she has intensively worked with.We were able to gain great knowledge about different aspects of the virus and how it can interact with viroids,where and how we can extract it from the plants. Finally we were lucky enough to receive guidance on potentially making our idea a start-up company after our promising results.

Evangelos Makris

Another insightful meeting was made possible with the involvement of Mr. Evangelos Makris, a specialized agronomist, and founder of MakrisAgro agricultural company. Mr. Makris takes on cases from all over Greece and especially in Crete. To our surprise, he was amenable to research and communicating with other scientists to gather statistics about TSWV. It was evident from our discussions that the future of agriculture lies with a limited-pesticide approach and is associated with prevention rather than inspection of infection. This approach, which complies with the Green Deal, contributes to the conservation of biological communities and the environment as part of a circular economy. Moreover, the overbearing and reckless usage of drastic substances has created an uncontrollable situation of pesticide-tolerant pests.

Mr. Makris also gave us great intel about the farmers’ perspective on diagnostic controls of their crops. Specifically, he informed us about the hesitation to invite agronomists to check for infected plants, in case it is decided to be put in quarantine. Therefore, he welcomed the concept of our practical and affordable diagnostic test and expressed his optimism about its prospects in future applications. He emphasized that rapid diagnosis reduces production costs and plays a significant part in a smooth transition to eco-friendly agricultural practices. He also prompted us to adjust our kit to be operational on the field and easy to use by non-specialists. As our meeting was coming to an end, he advised us to listen to the needs of farmers and not underestimate the importance of prevention.