Development of science in Kazakhstan is at its early stages. That is why we found it of great importance to ensure that within our University, there would be active young researchers, who would be able to participate in numerous interesting science projects and researches. We did this by organizing many open sessions, lectures, seminars and participating in other events like a student club fair. For us, it is important to spread awareness not only about iGEM and synthetic biology but also to promote the engagement of young students in science. With this purpose, we have also visited high schools that focused on chemical and biological sciences and gave lectures to young students. Since in the Kazakh society, the idea of synthetic biology being helpful and beneficial is not widely spread and the majority of people are still biased towards it, our aim was to promote it among the young generation and persuade the public that synthetic biology can bring benefits. Our team finds iGEM to be a great opportunity not only to create and bring to life a meaningful and problem-solving idea but also to share these ideas and educate others.
The hydrogen sulfide released as a gas to the environment is one of the major concerns in West Kazakhstan. Since the beginning of the oil production and manufacturing years, the sulfur content in the wastewater has affected the lives of many people. In some areas of West Kazakhstan, it was such a huge issue that the relocation of some villages near the production sites became a priority for some oil companies. These people from the villages were relocated to Atyrau city and given financial support to further sustain their lives in the city. However, these people lived in these areas for many years before they were relocated and they breathed the toxic air for many years. During the process of relocation, many of them did not even know that they were being relocated for the ecological problems in the area. Unfortunately, it is disappointing that these people had to relocate and change their lives. Oil extraction is a complicated process that requires many sacrifices, but the future of the ecology should not be one of them. Therefore, we wanted to highlight the importance of our project and to show how it has the potential to avoid such ecological dilemmas.
In this interview, we invited three individuals of different generations from different areas of Atyrau State. They were given a short introduction about iGEM, synthetic biology, our team, and project. Afterward, they were asked questions concerning the air and whether they knew that this is a huge ecological concern in Atyrau region. According to the interview, the person who was relocated from a village called Sarkamys did not even fully understand the reason for their relocation. The woman who has lived 41 years in Atyrau says that she has always noticed the different and unfavorable smell in the air. The elderly people who have lived in Kulsary region (near Atyrau city) since the 1980s say that to this day, the oil companies have not figured out a way to reduce their environmental toxic wastes.
Bauyrzhan Tanatar – a 22-year-old young man whose family was relocated from Sarkamys (near Atyrau city) in 2006.
Zhanat Zholamanova - a woman who lives in Atyrau, contributed her thoughts on the ecological issues in the area overall.
Kulyash and Toles Kashabayevs family – a family who lived in Sarkamys and moved to Kulsary in the late 1980s.
After this interview, we have noticed that many people did not understand the impact these oil companies had on the environment. The importance of spreading awareness of such ecological issues should be taken as a priority not only for local oil companies. We appreciate that we could meet with these people and not only give them scientific background but also learn other aspects of this issue that we didn’t know.
Overall, the interview not only shows the importance of our project as a potential solution for the ecological issue, but it also shows that this project has taken into account the people who have been directly affected by this issue. In the future, we hope to continue spreading awareness about this problem and to show that we can solve it.
Raising awareness of population in Kazakhstan
Generally, there are lots of negative assumptions about synthetic biology and genetic engineering in Kazakh society. People tend to think that genetic engineering is dangerous and it can totally ruin the environment. Our team aimed to challenge those assumptions and persuade society, that there are lots of advantages of synthetic biology. We decided that educating people about synthetic biology will be effective through mass media because it is one of the most powerful tools of communication to outreach ideas. We appeared on TV in “Khabar 24 news” national channel and briefly explained about iGEM and benefits of our project for society. Also, “My city” newspaper printed article about our new project. We hope that our activities changed the way people think about synthetic biology.
NIS Astana and Atyrau
Meeting with the students from Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) in Astana and Atyrau, studying Biology/Chemistry as their main subjects was one of the important presentation sessions. We actively involved 9-10-11 grade students in synthetic biology and give them a general idea what it is to be a young researcher and how to work in the biological laboratory. Firstly, the students presented some of their own scientific projects, for which we gave positive feedback and gave some advice on how to improve. Then, we presented our project and they could not believe that university students could carry out such scientific projects. The students seemed very interested and inspired by our project. By presenting at such schools, we aim to show that synthetic biology is the future to many challenges in medicine, industry, and environment. After the presentation, they asked questions on how to start a scientific research, how to find protocols for specific experiments or how to participate in iGEM. Also, we conducted a brief quiz for students in order to engage them in a process and help them to think critically. Their teachers also asked thought-provoking questions along with the students, which showed their interest. Overall, the presentation and meeting with these students were successful.
APEC PetroTechnic Institute & Atyrau Institute of Oil and Gas
This institute was established with the aim of educating young professionals in the petroleum field and many international oil companies support the institute. Since our project is in the oil industry, we thought it would be appropriate to include them on our list of places where we would host a presentation session. We explained about iGEM, synthetic biology, and genetic engineering, and we showed how we have planned our project. The students did not expect that such diverse fields such as biology and petroleum could meet to offer novel solutions for a common problem. Some students were keen to show their own projects that also had a similar aim and we were very glad to offer advice about their projects. We understand how important it is to not only present and ‘talk the talk’ but also to engage with other students and inspire them.
ACS x iGEM
The American Chemical Society international student chapter at Nazarbayev University and iGEM NU Kazakhstan organized a joint event that included senior students in the chemistry and biology major giving advice, some tips and tricks. For many, this type of senior talk session provides opportunities to ask about many college/major related questions. We didn’t only answer questions, we also got to promote our project and show what we do so that they know there are clubs that are within their majors. Later, the students were surprised to know what iGEM was all about, as they didn’t expect a group of students to work on real-life research and practice all the theory we learned in class.
Educational engagement is the most effective way to clarify difficult scientific topics. We understand the importance of increasing the interest of school students and introducing them to a more advanced scientific environment. The aim of this meeting with the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) Grade 10-11 students was to present our project in an entertaining and educational way, to engage with the students and answer their questions about our project, and to change their perspectives about synthetic biology. After a brief presentation, the students were divided into teams and received their questions that are related to our project. The NU_Kazakhstan iGEM team members were waiting for the teams at different stations throughout the university. The point of the treasure hunt was to answer the questions asked by the iGEM members at each station to proceed to their next station and the venue of the next station is given as a clue in the questions asked. This way, the students did not only learn teamwork skills but also they gained knowledge about synthetic biology and iGEM in an engaging way and they increased their analytical thinking by quickly going through all the stations. The students were not the only ones who enjoyed the treasure hunt. The NU iGEM members also liked asking the questions and sharing their scientific knowledge with the students to help them get through all the stations. The students also had to look for their team symbols at the last station, which related to our project. In the end, the winners were awarded with prizes. Interestingly, the students did not leave right after the treasure hunt and stayed to ask more questions. They asked well thought out questions about our NU iGEM team, our project and about lab work. We were excited to answer all their questions and encouraged them to get interested in the field of synthetic biology. The enthusiasm of the students gave us more motivation to organize educational engagements regularly. The students even came up with the idea to create a synthetic biology club at their school and explore this field. We were excited after the meeting because it was a great pleasure to see that the school students were curious about biology and they were full of energy to create and contribute to something new.
Orientation week talk
First day or weeks of college can be very exciting yet nerve wrecking for incoming freshmen. They think they know what awaits for them, but we know that many do not usually really know what is expected from them. Many of us had to choose our major based on interests or hobbies we liked, but once you start studying, there are many obstacles that test your desire to continue studying your major. iGEM is not only a project, but it is also an opportunity for many to conclude their choice of biological sciences. This is where they can ensure they enjoy working in the laboratory for many hours. We did not only promote iGEM or synthetic biology, but the fascinations of science have been shared and inspired many freshmen to study science majors. The outcome of the orientation talk was introducing freshmen to the laboratory work possibilities for biology students and attracting more students to get interested in science research project such as these. We presented our project and tried to explain the aim of our project. There were many students that were interested and they were very determined to come to our welcoming session that would take place next year for the next year’s project. Peer advising session and Senior talks with foundation and freshman students gave us an opportunity to encourage newcomers to engage into science fields and share our own experience regarding prospects of being the iGEM member.
Presenting our “iGEM“ student club at club fair gave us opportunity to encourage newcomers to engage into science field and share our own experience about prospects of being an iGEM member. Student community at our university tends to think that only biology students may become participants of iGEM, however it is not so. We tried to dispel doubts and clearly explained that social science, computer science and engineer students may contribute to IGEM team and make our future projects more diverse and versatile. Lots of freshman biology students were genuinely interested to gain laboratory experience. The main purpose of presenting our club and project was to involve university students into synthetic biology. During the club fair, we briefly presented our project about bioremediation of sour crude oil using cyanobacteria. On top of that, we made interactive exercises which aimed to discuss ethical and social considerations of synthetic biology and our current project. By the end of the club fair, about 700 students became aware of the current problem of toxic hydrogen sulfide accumulation in Kazakhstan.