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Human Practice

Human Practice


Our aim with this page is to showcase the impact of social feedback on the development of our project and our approach to the design-build-test-learn cycle for our hardware. Additionally, we provide information on our efforts to raise awareness of synthetic biology through public engagement activities.



Mining in Ghana has had a major impact on the nation’s economic growth for decades and has made one of the greatest contributions to the government’s revenue. As of 2020, the gold mining and minerals sector alone contributed almost 7.8 billion Ghana Cedis to the country’s Gross Domestic Product [1]. Thus, the mining sector forms an integral part of the nation. However, the negative impacts it presents is too unbearable for the environment, nature and for humans. Several of the current methods of detection of minerals in Ghana are time-consuming and harmful resulting in erosion, the alteration of the different soil profiles and the contamination of water bodies [2] [3].

The solution we present is a bacteria-based form of lithium mining and is beyond a doubt a new detection method in Ghana. Thus, the essence of our human practice was to understand more about the current detection methods to know how we can provide a better, cheaper and more sustainable solution. Our main proposed end users include mining and recycling companies. It was our goal to also hear the opinions of experts, miners, residents of mining communities and young people regarding their thoughts and insights on a synthetic-biology approach to mining. In our interactions with these people, we tried as much as possible to address and clarify any misconceptions they may have had regarding the use of bacteria as well as try to convince them that the solution we have built would be beneficial to communities and the environment.


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The team was privileged to be invited to Engineers and Planners, where we pitched our project to the directors of the company to receive their input, suggestions and feedback. Engineers and Planners is known to be one of the largest and major mining and engineering firms in Ghana and West Africa. Considering the company’s services, including mining support and prospecting of minerals, we valuable to introduce our project and engage in discussions with them. Our presentation to the board predominantly entailed the impact and goals of the project, as well as the team’s progress so far.


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We recently had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Humphrey Buntungu, the Unit Manager for Exploration at Gold Fields Ghana. During the interview, he shared with us the key factors that contribute to a successful mineral discovery, which include having the right people, a suitable budget, effective sampling, and prospective ground.

Mr. Buntungu also explained the exploration pipeline, which is a pyramid-shaped model used during the exploration process. As you move higher up the pyramid, the level of confidence and costs increase. Stage 1 involves performing multielement XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence), geophysics, and trenching. In stage 2, a few holes are drilled to collect samples for analysis. More drilling takes place in stage 3, and during stage 4, geotechnical work begins. The work is then later handed over for resource estimation and mining to occur.

We also learned from Mr. Buntungu that at Gold Fields, sustainability is a top priority. The company has measures in place to ensure minimal impact is made on the environment, such as recycling water used during the process, having a well-engineered tailings dam for managing toxic waste, and revegetating the area after extraction. Additionally, the use of cyanide and other chemicals is carefully controlled during the entire process.


Considering the fact that lithium mining has not commenced yet in Ghana due to its recent discovery, we decided to interview and engage with residents living in gold mining communities instead.

He is a dedicated and ambitious student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems, and resides in the rural community of Kpantarigo located in the Upper east Region of Ghana. He has observed first-hand the dire effects of illegal mining activities on the community. From the interview, he mentioned that one of the problems faces are skin diseases. These arise because several miners wash their hands and dirt in the water bodies which are used for cooking and drinking. Additionally, some people in the community have lost their lives from getting buried in caves dug from gold exploration. He also stated that many of the small-scale miners do not close up the dug pits after drilling the land in search for minerals. When our project solution was pitched to him, he acknowledged that it would be a major game changer /in lithium mining communities and would save lands from degradation.

*Anonymous User: Also originating from the same town as our first interviewee, he shared the same concerns. He however, stressed on the cost of our solution as it seems to be quite expensive in his opinion. It was suggested that it would be best to avoid using gold mining as a reference regarding determining the cost as it could result in an overestimate or underestimate.


Info Session with Ashesi University Students

The team had the opportunity to interact with other Ashesi University students in an info session organized by the team. The purpose of the gathering was to raise awareness about synthetic biology and the benefits of bacteria to mankind, as well as share our project and encourage students to enroll in the Synthetic Biology elective that the school offers. It was a very interactive session, and it was interesting to hear the views of students about bacteria and some synthetic biology applications. At the start, many of them were rather skeptical about the use of bacteria to solve a problem in society as well as the safety of our project on the environment. However, after expounding more on how the synthesizing project was done and how our project takes into account safety by including hydrogels and a UV kill switch, their perspective on the matter began to change. After the session, we had some participants approach us and express how beneficial they believe our solution would be to miners due to how sustainable it is. Those interested were also encouraged to join the next Ashesi iGEM team and to reach out to the team if they still had questions or suggestions.

Career Choices Session With High School Students

The Ashesi 2023 iGEM team collaborated with UniGhana, a startup formed by Ashesi University students with the aim of providing senior high school students with information regarding the universities in Ghana and providing assistance in the advancement of their education. The purpose of the visit was to share vital information concerning potential schools they can apply to such as Ashesi University, African Leadership University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and University of Cape Town. The iGEM team assisted by shedding more light on some STEM related majors and career paths including those related to synthetic biology. The students were encouraged to take their career paths and ambitions seriously and consider opportunities available in their area of interests. The team also briefly spoke about the iGEM foundation, its purpose and what our project entailed.


Environmental Values

Our detection method is such that there is minimal impact on the environment. Once the hole has been dug, the biosensor is place at the bottom and after two days by analyzing the colour change of the bacteria, our users would know of the likelihood of the prescence of lithium being found in that area. If the probability is high, extraction procedures can begin. If the probability is low, then the hole is covered and land can be reclaimed and rehabilitated, avoiding the unnecessary exploitation of land and cutting of trees as well as conserving biodiversity. The wastage of resources during mining would also be minimized and water is conserved.

It is of importance to us that our solution be environmentally friendly knowing as this is bacteria we are working with. This seemed to come up in most of our sessions with the stakeholders. Despite the fact that the bacteria we are using is non-pathogenic we cannot leave anything to chance. We have taken precautions by encapsulating the bacteria in a hydrogel and this would be contained in agarose. If per chance the bacteria breaches to the surface, a UV kill switch is activated. However, after the retrieval we would also use a UV LED wand to ensure that any remaining bacteria in the ground is killed. This will ensure that there is no danger or threat posed by the solution on our users.

Moral Values

The team prioritized ethical and morally right behaviour in our sessions and interviews with our stakeholders and during our decision-making process also. Transparency and integrity regarding our goals, methods and results were not taken for granted. Thus, we ensured that we provided accurate information during our tests and experiments and were honest about the potential risk of our biosensor hence provided the measures we had put in place. Moreover, our solution ensured fairness, avoiding any discrimination or bias towards some stakeholders. Building both the app and the camera ensures this because these two solutions allow for user to choose tone which they would prefer and best meet their needs and suit their lifestyle. We were also sure to always seek consent from our users during the activities which involved their participation.

Social Values

We believe our solution would greatly benefit the health and well-being of people in communities because there is less contamination to water bodies and conservation of water during mining. This will promote the physical health since less contamination means a decrease in the spread of diseases and this may potentially better the mental health of the residents. We also provided education to secondary school students and college students in relation to synthetic biology. In engaging with the younger students, we shared with them some related career paths they could venture into and opened the floor for them to ask any career and university related questions lingering in their minds.

Reflection and Ideation


The Engineers and Planners team raised the important point that they often require the detection of minerals beyond just lithium. This led us to consider the versatility of our Biosensor. As a result, we modified the Biosensor to include multiple holes in each column. Depending on the specific mineral they want to detect, users can insert the corresponding sensors, thereby expanding its capability to detect various minerals, such as gold.


Initially, our biosensor design allowed for a depth of only 3 meters underground. However, we learned that this depth would encompass primarily the topsoil. Consequently, we made the decision to dig deeper, extending the depth to 15 meters. This adjustment increases our chances of detecting both pathfinder elements and lithium itself, as it allows us to reach beyond the topsoil layer.

Material choice

The feedback from one of our users in a local community indicated that the cost of our biosensor may be too expensive. Some modifications were therefore made to our choice of material. Initially the rods were going to be metallic but then we came to a realization that it could simply be made of plastic which would be cheaper and equally serves the same purpose of creating holes.

Visit mechanical hardware page for further explanations on integration of feedback on our project's design