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BIOPOP: Young researchers stir up debate

Delft University Of Technology : 24 November, 2006  (Technical Article)
Last weekend close to 3,000 people attended the second annual BIOPOP event on the Markt in Delft, where they experienced the biotechnology of the future. About 50 young European researchers, including those from TU Delft, stood before the public armed with DNA from kiwis, cow cells and their own mucus. Using these DNA samples, the researchers engaged the public in discussions about the benefits and risks of DNA databanks, genetically modified food and gene therapy.
Just as in ancient Athens, the visitors to the 'agora' collectively defined the borders for the use of biotechnology. The conclusions drawn from the public discussions will be published later this year.

Public events featuring biotechnology aren't new and debates about the limits society imposes on research have been held for many years. But with the integration of BIOPOP's two forms of public communication, a place in the middle of the city and the efforts of the young researchers, they created a new approach, which appears to be extremely engaging. Enthusiastic individual visitors first viewed DNA from a kiwi, cow cells or their own mucus, and then gave their opinions about the use of DNA in solving crimes and fighting diseases. Secondary school students had fiery debates about cloning and xeno-transplantation. Young children played with Giant Microbes and also played a game that involved searching for a thief based on the DNA fingerprints he left on a telephone or piece of candy. This event introduced many new approaches for engaging the public.

But this was not a one-off event. It is part of a research project into the effects of the applied method, which was financed by the European Commission. And one that is really unique. BIOPOP is testing a communication method that is based on young researchers involving the public in their research.

The young researchers came from five European countries (Germany, France, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands) and used two public events to talk to visitors about the current and future applications of their research. By cleverly using the tickets and closely observing the public, it was possible to test the applied model and evaluate the levels of interest among visitors.

The model seems to have worked, but the formal analysis must still be done and be published. The final results are expected later this year. Until then, people who are interested can experience the model on the Genomic days in NEMO (Amsterdam) or the Sharing Knowledge congress at the Da Vinci Institute (Amsterdam).
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