Vanilla-flavored synthetic biology

Synthetic biology represents the latest phase in the development of biotechnology, in which scientists are gaining unprecedented control in programming new biological functions by rewriting the genetic code. Recently, various industries have been investing in applications regarding new production processes based on synthetic biology. In the food industry, an interesting example, although not exclusive, is vanillin, the molecule that gives vanilla its typical perfume.

MUSE, the Science Museum of Trento, as part of the Synenergene project, is proposing a new public engagement activity, which intends to demonstrate how vanillin is produced using innovative synthetic biology techniques.

The activity takes into account all the “ingredients” needed to include lay citizens in the responsible research and innovations framework as regard to synthetic biology, through a participatory approach.

An introductory explanation on the use of vanilla and an overview of the methods involved in the extraction/production of vanillin bring forward a practical demo by simulating the genetic manipulation to produce the main molecule responsible for the vanilla aroma. The practical activity is based on puzzles made up of pieces designed to represent the genomes of five organisms (yeast, human, fungi and bacteria) and the respective genes and genomes involved in the production of vanillin. It is a graphic simplification, which means to clarify the genetic engineering procedure involved in the production of vanillin. The participants shall identify the pieces representing the “genes of interest” found in four organisms and transfer them into the puzzle referred to the yeast genome.

Moreover, the industry vision on the technical and economic benefits from producing synbio-vanillin, as well as an overview of more fundamental aspects of synthetic biology through the interview of an academic scientist, are shown through two short clip.

A crucial phase is the participants’ evaluation of the activity and the common understanding of the key messages emphasized during a workshop. For this evaluation, an ad hoc questionnaire was developed. In addition, to investigate participants’ willingness with regard to synthetic biology, a cheque facsimile shall be used to make a specific choice: not to invest in public research with public money or to finance it by selecting one field of research among environmental, health and food sector.

More information about the project: www.synenergene.eu

Tags

  • #Synenergene
  • #rri
  • #MUSE

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