In 2019 and 2022, RIS assembled teams of ten or fewer interested friends to compete in iGEM. In contrast, iGEM 2023 was opened up to the entirety of our high school in a formal selection process. This led to a larger team roster composed of more diverse grade levels, nationalities, and focused interests, ranging from illustration and communication to biology and coding. To satisfy iGEM criteria, it is crucial that we tap into local infrastructure for both lab and human practices. Although we have the strength of being a largely Thai-knowledgeable team, we also have a growing contingent of non-Thai members who have been able to make strong contributions without Thai language skills. The adult contingent of our team and attributions is somewhat similar in diversity, which allows for strong advising in multiple aspects of the program.

    There are only 6 teams participating from South East Asia (SEA) this year, and out of those 6 teams, we are the only high school team. This suggests that most schools in the SEA region — both at the high school and collegiate level — do not have the resources or awareness to pursue a world stage competition that is so resource heavy in terms of time and expense. The fact that we are the only high school team that is representing the SEA region in iGEM 2023 is a privilege, but it also makes our team responsible for the representation of our cultures in order to reflect the experiences of the 688 million people in SEA.

    The motto of iGEM is ''Local people solving local problems,'' and yet for the overwhelmingly underrepresented SEA, there are proportionately few hands to help solve local issues with synthetic biology. According to the General Survey conducted by the team, 68.8% of participants think that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are harmful to the environment and that they produce negative long term effects. This is why the Thailand-RIS team raised awareness among a wide demographic range, including farmers, local politicians and community leaders, and international school students with the aim of bringing a balanced understanding of the positive impacts of GM to our local communities.

Including the general public

    The Thailand-RIS Human Practices' Team sent out the General Survey to gauge the general public's opinion on GMOs. The survey had options for a broad range of ages (teenagers - senior citizens) and was available in both Thai and English. This allowed for more responses from a wider demographic, further establishing the idea of inclusivity, as our team encouraged both Thai and non-Thai citizens residing in Thailand to be a part of our project. The survey also gave a voice to a much wider community than would have been possible had our team met with them face to face, thus enhancing the data collected. This survey spoke to our team’s inclusivity as anyone who came across the General Survey could easily access it and fill it out.

    Additionally, in the Chanthaburi Community Outreach, the farmers and stakeholders whom we were presenting to mainly spoke Thai, and some could not understand English at all. Knowing this, we translated our project description and content and presented it in Thai despite being from an international school, because we realized how important it was to be inclusive when sharing things to a community that may not be familiar with synthetic biology. By sharing our project in the local language, we are broadening the field of synthetic biology to more groups and our local communities.

    Our project addressed multiple United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), namely SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and SDG #12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Our project strives to lessen the struggles of farming within local communities by mitigating plant stress. GMOs grow more efficiently and do not require as many resources, which benefits everyone and promotes sustainability while decreasing food waste for communities. With synthetic biology, producers may be able to grow durian plants more easily despite increasing stressors due to climate change. Likewise, consumers will be able to enjoy robust, and therefore more available, plants with cheaper prices.

    Synthetic biology aids in decreasing inequality and the gaps that come with it in Thailand because it allows for easier farming and production of various crops. This can lower prices of crop goods and increase affordability, allowing more individuals the ability to access and purchase a diverse range of crops and goods that only the privileged currently access. This would also be beneficial for the farmers as they would reduce their losses and as a result better support their families.

Including stakeholders in provincial agrarian communities: farm workers to business owners to political leaders

    Our team's Chanthaburi Community Outreach was another way in which inclusivity was demonstrated in our project, as the activities informed the farming community about GMOs and its implications in a world of Western science. Our interactions with the local community allowed us to speak about issues that are not critically discussed in local curricula and therefore difficult to bring up in daily conversations. Since deeper exchanges surrounding GMOs are generally limited within the English language and corresponding literature or reserved for academic and political discourse, our Thai language contributions allowed the farmers and farm laborers to better understand the advantages and risks of genetic engineering. Modern science stemmed from Western Europe, and as a result, has narrowed science to English related languages. Our Thai presentations and activities have gone against this trend and shed light on important and relevant topics surrounding GMOs for the farming community. It also enabled us to appreciate more the potential opportunities and challenges of applying our work to real crops. This opened up discussions about the future of synthetic biology and where it can bring Thailand economically as a hub of food security in the South East Asian region.

Including the next generation

    Prior to the Elementary School Workshop, we were informed that there were several fourth grade students with weaker English learning skills who may need extra support. These students were in English Language Development (ELD) and the teachers informed us that if the instructions or choices were not visual, they may not be able to participate to the fullest in the activity. Accordingly, the activities that were organized were specifically tailored for the engagement of all fourth graders, regardless of their English level. For example, in the plasmid activity, we focused heavily on using symbols instead of words so that kids with weaker English proficiencies would have an easier time recognizing traits for the assignment. This means our work is easily transferable outside of RIS to a local public school or even easily borrowed by other teams for their own language environments, thus enhancing inclusivity. For the comic, the story plotline was relatively easy to follow, and the speech bubbles that we provided gave the students room to add their own creative flairs to the comic. This approach enabled diverse learners to understand our project better and frame it to their own interpretations.

    By exposing the kids to all this science through fun activities that act as a vessel of creativity and agency, we have contributed to raising the next generation of children living in Thailand to be more educated in synthetic biology.

    In Ruamrudee International School's middle school section, the 7th and 8th grade students are currently studying GMOs as a part of their curriculum within their genetics unit (NGSS standards: MLS1-5, MLS3-1 and MLS4-5): thus, our presentation focused on the cell, structures and functions of organelles, GMOs, and the nature of plant stress relative to our project with a glimpse into the field of synthetic biology. Next quarter, 7th and 8th graders will debate about the pros and cons of GMOs and will be able to use knowledge gained from the workshop to support their arguments. To keep the workshop accessible to 12 and 13 year olds, we were careful to define terms like mitochondria and DNA as we outlined types of plant stressors and the methods required to minimize them. By presenting our project to the 7th and 8th grade students, we are enhancing their knowledge on synthetic biology and genetics. We broadened the realm of synthetic biology to them, and showed them that this is something that exists outside their classroom, and can be connected to real life situations. In doing so, we are including them in international scientific communities and allowing them to learn about the potential of synthetic biology.