Collaborations were an exciting aspect of the iGEM experience: there seemed to exist a certain community through the iGEM networks, of students who were engaging in lab work just as we were - succeeding and failing, and of course, learning. We maintained correspondence with a few different teams, meeting with a representative of Tec de Monterrey for instance. But the more impactful communications we made to the mutual benefits of two teams came from our participation in the NEGEM meet up that was hosted by the Boston University iGEM Team.
This was one of our first experiences presenting our project, and the feedback we received on our work was very helpful on what aspects we needed to clarify and expand on more for future presentations. Beyond having the first time exposure, talking about our project brought us into contact with local teams who offered us aid from the discoveries they made from their own research.
Harvard iGEM Magazine
With a project that relies on the use of live bacteria, we know that our project would raise a few heads for anyone who was not familiar with the use of synthetic biology. The stigma against gene editing and different methods of meddling with the very codes that make up a human, is something that is heavily controversial as the field continues to expand and grow. In order to highlight the positive potential that could come out of harnessing synthetic biology, our team reached out to our peers around the world to send in their abstracts in order to #FightTheStigma!
Our formal collaboration request: "Calling all iGEM teams! This year, Team Harvard wants to work with you all to end the stigma against synthetic biology. We’ve noticed that human contact with bacteria is frequently associated with negative consequences and as such, it is regarded as dangerous by the general public. As iGEM teams, we understand that genetically engineering bacteria is a largely untapped resource for positive change. Help us show the world the true potential of harnessing bacteria for use in therapeutics, diagnostics, the environment and more!"Thank you to all the teams who participated!
Boston University Hardware iGEM
The NeGEM conference was the start of our collaboration with the BU Hardware iGEM Team. Their project, TERRA, is an automated microfluidics system designed to facilitate wet lab experimentation. Their tech was particularly useful for us because cell encapsulation with alginate can be accomplished using microfluidics. This particular technique of forming alginate capsules was not available to us at in our own lab. However, it is advantageous in the respect that using microfluidics allows for precision of cell concentration in each droplet. A microfluidics system also allows us to test many different concentrations of cross-linker and alginate to influence pore size, a feature that would need to be optimized for our keratinases. A still image of the microfluidic chip running with dyed water is shown below. Due to the viscosity of alginate, we were unable to perfect the technique of encapsulating cells with alginate. However, the BU Team allowed us to explore another facet of our experimentation. In addition, we provided feedback on the design and use of their microfluidic device to help them to further optimize its function.
Massachusettes Institute of Technology iGEM
It became clear between the discussions on both of our teams that the use of cell encapsulation was a necessary component in our experiments. Through MIT, we were able to connect with a graduate student at the Langer Labs, Derfogail Delcassian who offered to train our team on how to perform a gel encapsulation. Half of our team members shadowed Derfogail as she went through the procedure, carefully explaining the method for casting the solution into a sterile tissue culture plate, as well as the technique for adding the appropriate cation for crosslinking the gel. This experience proved to be enormously helpful towards our efforts of creating a gel that would enable our keratinases to secrete without having the cells break through the gel. Between the two teams, we agreed to compile a standardized protocol for cell encapsulation that could be used by future iGEM teams.