Integrated Human Practices


"Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room. "

-Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder

In iGEM, we call the thoughtful engagement with the world to see if the project could address real-world problems, Human Practices.

This year, we discovered that some enterprises were facing challenges due to the expensive and scarce fragrance fixatives required to meet the demand for diverse and long-lasting fragrances in daily chemical and perfume products, such as ambergris and sandalwood oil. In response to this problem, we utilizing synthetic biology technology to produce economical and environmental friendly fragrance fixatives.

That is why, our program AROMA ANCHOR, was created.

Figure 1. Overall design of Aroma Anchor

We research potential target customer groups by focusing on their needs, and improve project design.

Throughout the development of our program, we have taken into account the perspectives of all stakeholders involved, including general public and experts with relevant technological knowledge.

Through our conversations with diverse stakeholders, we have gained a profound understanding of the significance of customer values and evaluations in the development of commercial projects.

Moving forward, we are committed to further facilitating the implementation of our project based on the needs of our customers, aiming to make it more impactful, responsible, and beneficial to the world.

Value analysis

1.Market Value of Ambergris

Ambergris, a sperm whale metabolite, is one of the most valuable scents of animal origin. It has traditionally been presented to the Chinese emperor as tribute, known as the Dragon's Vomit in the Chinese royal court. It has also long been used as a fragrance and traditional medication for maladies such as migraines, constipation, and rheumatism.

The market of ambergris belongs to a larger market of fragrance and fragrance fixative. However, obtaining precise market size data for Ambergris is challenging, as it is not rigorously tracked like more conventional commodities. This difficulty arises from its origin in sperm whales, which makes its trade subject to a multitude of legal and ethical restrictions.

According to some research, we learned that notwithstanding the vicissitudes induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the global Ambergris market exceeded a valuation of several million USD in the year 2022. The difficulties of obtaining ambergris led to its extremely high unit price, approximately $10,000 per pound.

Figure 2. Schematic of ambergris

2.Limits of Ambergris

Nevertheless, the two prevailing methods for acquiring Ambergris, namely through whale hunting or natural procurement, are beset with numerous constraints and limitations.

Whaling, as a source of Ambergris, is highly unsustainable. Approximately one sperm whale in every 100 hunted yields this substance. Consequently, the large-scale hunting of sperm whales, particularly during peaks in whaling activity in the 1840s and 1960s, had a severely detrimental impact on sperm whale populations. Given the critical role sperm whales play in marine ecosystems, their reduced numbers have had cascading effects on these ecosystems. The inability of sperm whales to recycle nutrients from the depths to the photic zone and their position as apex predators in the food chain has further exacerbated the ecological consequences. Moreover, accessing current Ambergris is nearly impossible due to the protected status of sperm whales under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In summary, whaling as a method of Ambergris acquisition is not only inefficient but also ethically problematic, given the moral dilemmas it raises.

Figure 3. Sperm whales have been brutally killed to obtain the ambergris that may exist inside their bodies

Natural Ambergris retrieval primarily occurs through picking up on beaches. Nonetheless, such occurrences are exceedingly rare, with jetsam Ambergris occasionally discovered on global shorelines, often commanding a premium price. Additionally, imprecise extraction procedures may result in a lingering unpleasant odor, significantly impairing the subtle and refined sensory experience associated with using Ambergris.

The challenges associated with procuring ambergris have resulted in its rarity and elevated market value, positioning it as a gem-like commodity, thereby underscoring its precious nature. Consequently, its application is primarily limited to luxury products, making it less accessible to the general populace.

Figure 4. Schematic of ambergris on the beach

3.Market Value of Sandalwood Oil

Sandalwood oil, a sandalwood extraction mainly comprised of santalol, holds a special position in East Asian and Buddhist cultures. The characteristic scent of sandalwood is peaceful, holy, and soothing, which can clear the heart, calm the mind, and eliminate distractions. It is very helpful for meditation and meditation, and is therefore widely used in religious ceremonies. In all the grandest Buddhist and royal celebrations in East Asia, sandalwood oil is an essential item, representing dedicated thoughts and the most sincere and holy wishes.

Figure 5. Schematic of sandalwood oil and its source

Moreover, this oil and its sesquiterpenoid components possess various medicinal properties including anticancer, neuroprotection, geroprotection, antihyperglycemia, and antioxidant activity. For these reasons, sandalwood oil has been widely used in modern perfumery industries and aromatherapy.

In 2022, the Sandalwood Oil Market was valued at USD 0.1 billion. The industry is on the brink of substantial expansion, with a projected increase from USD 0.11 billion in 2023 to over USD 0.2 billion by 2032, reflecting a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.99% during the forecast period from 2023 to 2032. The cost of natural Sandalwood oil stands at $20 per milliliter, while the synthetic alternative, chemical Sandalwood Oil, remains relatively expensive, priced at approximately $25 per gram.

4.Limits of Sandalwood Oil

Sandalwood oil, in high demand across various sectors, including religion, cosmetics, and aromatics, faces several production and extraction limitations. Our analysis identifies four key constraints associated with Sandalwood:

Figure 6. The growth stages of sandalwood made into sandalwood oil

(1) Extended Growth Cycle: Sandalwood possesses an exceptionally long growth cycle, necessitating a minimum of 5 to 10 years for heartwood development and roughly 25 years to attain the high oil content and quality required for extraction. This protracted growth period renders the extraction of Sandalwood oil notably inefficient.

(2) Large Planting Area Requirements: The conditions and planting area necessary for Sandalwood are considerably stringent in comparison to other plants. The growth of Sandalwood necessitates a weed plant host for support, and the vast lateral root extensions underground lead to low plantation density, demanding a considerable land area. Given the scarcity of unused land, not allocated for agriculture or infrastructure, Sandalwood plantation becomes economically challenging.

(3) Climate Restrictions: Sandalwood exclusively thrives within a specific temperature range of 12-35°C, effectively limiting its geographical distribution to the latitudes between 30˚N and 40˚S. This climatic constraint further restricts the feasibility of Sandalwood plantations.

(4) Water and Care Demands: Successful cultivation of Sandalwood demands substantial water resources and meticulous care, adding to the complexities and challenges associated with its plantation.

Despite the current availability of Sandalwood Oil through chemical synthesis, there remain certain limitations, encompassing concerns related to ingredient safety, pricing, yield, and other factors.

5.Project Value Embodiment

In the perfume market analysis report, it is projected that the fragrance and perfume market size will reach $70.5 billion in 2022. The perfume and fragrance industry is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.50% during the forecast period from 2023 to 2032. Two significant substances in perfumery are Ambergris and Sandalwood Oil.

Ambergris serves as a critical fixative in perfumes, with its primary source being the excretion of sperm whales. Global bans on sperm whale hunting have significantly reduced the supply of ambergris, leading to its high market price, which stands at approximately $10,000 per pound.

Sandalwood Oil holds a prominent place in the production of contemporary perfumes and cosmetics, often serving as a foundational note due to its prized woody aroma. Distilled from the heartwood or various roots of the sandalwood tree, this oil boasts the exceptional ability to retain its unique fragrance over an extended period. Renowned for its luxurious scent, sandalwood is among the most expensive ingredients in perfumery and a common component in designer fragrances. Additionally, it has a rich history in traditional medicine, where it has been used for thousands of years for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, and calming properties.

In conventional methods of acquiring Ambergris and Sandalwood Oil, the process entails the killing of sperm whales to obtain Ambergris or the felling of decades-old trees to yield a minuscule quantity of sandalwood oil. These practices not only incur high costs but also inflict irreversible environmental damage. The utilization of microorganisms in the production of Ambergris and Sandalwood Oil offers a sustainable solution that curtails the illegal hunting of sperm whales and the excessive logging of sandalwood trees.

Conversely, synthetic biology enables the sustainable and continuous production of these compounds within a controlled laboratory environment, mitigating environmental damage and minimizing associated human and geographic expenses. In comparison to conventional production techniques, cultivating Ambergris and Sandalwood Oil through microbial means ensures enhanced preservation and reduced transportation costs.

This approach guarantees a steady and large-scale supply, all the while maintaining cost-efficiency, thereby facilitating broader access across diverse brands and applications, ultimately enhancing convenience in people's lives. Leveraging synthetic biology for the manufacturing of these products also serves to bolster environmental awareness and practical conservation efforts. Through our project's ongoing promotion and dissemination of synthetic biology, the public gains a more comprehensive understanding of the societal advancements driven by synthetic biology.

6.Stakeholder Identification

We have considered which groups of people will be stakeholders in our project and what methods will be helpful for us to gather their opinions. At the same time, we will improve our project based on their feedback and seek help from professionals during the improvement process.

Figure 8. Stakeholders Analysis

1.When targeting our customer group, we looked for people who have a demand for expensive fragrance fixatives such as ambrein and santalol, including end-users in the consumer market and companies in the business-to-business market. This helped us determine whether we should create a distinct fragrance fixatives products or sell raw materials companies. We established a survey to engage the public and understand the demand for fragrance and perfume industries to extend the scent duration. After identifying our target customer base, we improved our project design based on their responses.

2.We also considered the impact of our production process for biologically synthesized fragrance raw materials on companies that still use traditional manufacture process. Therefore, we tried to learn about which industries may compete with us, such as companies that extract natural essential oils or produce synthetic fragrance raw materials. Finally, we visited a production workshop that sells natural essential oils and learned about the traditional companies' views on applying synthetic biology in the fragrance industry.

3.During the project design improvement process, we needed to find out how to overcome the challenges of scaling up from laboratory production to industrial production and how to develop a sales plan. Therefore, we consulted with professional fermentation engineers and entrepreneurs.

4.In the process of confirming requirements and the market, we can determine the potential impact of the project on the fragrance industry. We also considered whether the project may have an impact on other fields. For example, sandalwood is a cherished fragrance in Buddhist faith, so we have interviewed masters from Buddhist temples.

7.Impacts and Future Outlook

Considering the extensive historical significance of ambergris and sandalwood oils, along with their potential to enhance people's lives, our aspiration is to make these valuable substances more attainable and accessible to a broader audience.

In light of meticulous research, interviews, and comprehensive analyses, we have embarked on utilizing synthetic biology for the sustainable production of Ambergris and santalol. So that we could address the limitations of Ambergris, associated with killing sperm whales, including expensive prices, challenges to obtain, and ethical concerns. And we can also resolve the limitations related to the extended growth cycle and high cost of sandalwood oil.

By employing synthetic biology, both ambergris and santalol can be procured in a more stable, commercially sustainable, and large-scale manner. Simultaneously, this approach allows for cost control, resulting in significantly lower prices compared to existing market products.

Integrated Human Practices

Before we start to engage with the stakeholders, we wish to gather their views, and take action to implement our project based on the feedback. Continue to read the this chapter to know more about our actions and gains.

Here's how we collect stakeholders' viewpoints.


Through our extensive document research, we discovered that the Mevalonate pathway (MVA pathway) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is involved in the production of santalol and ambrein. We have successfully obtained the DNA sequences of these identified enzymes, enabling a deeper understanding of their genetic composition. With sufficient basic research on the experimental design, we then need practical advice in various aspects, including genetic engineering, fermentation industry, marketing and so on. In order to expand our porject and prepare it for implementing it into the industry, we had some interviews with the professionals in different aspects.

Here's how we take action to implement our project.