William and Mary
This year, we were mentored by the William & Mary team, as St Andrews and William & Mary are sister schools. There’s already a joint degree between the two universities in the liberal arts, and so it was a natural decision to deepen the relationship between the Schools of Biology. Over the course of the summer, the team from William & Mary advised us on the tricky nature of genome editing, and how it was easier and more reliable to alter bacterial function via plasmids as an alternative. Moreover, we discussed the nature of using fluorescence as a marker of cell viability as opposed to relying on the OD600 measurement. Their captain, Ethan Jones, gave us excellent protocols, advice, and pointers on lab techniques that have worked for William & Mary in the past, including methods for colony PCR, miniprep procotols, and general tips on plasmid cloning. He helped us find the most reliable way to perform part characterization experiments (suggesting we use ribosome binding sites or promoters as a starting point for the exploration). Additionally, he walked us through the requirements for part improvement.
One of our team members, Morganne, was able to visit William and Mary and discuss more about our project in person, as well as attending their community outreach programme, during which they surveyed citizens of Williamsburg about local opinions on the ethics and implications of genome editing for medicinal purposes.
We’d like to say thank you so much to them for all their help and support, without which our project would not have run as smoothly!
Morganne attending the community outreach session hosted by William and Mary
Scottish iGEM meetup
As part of our collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, we hosted a Scottish iGEM meetup with both the undergraduate and overgraduate Edinburgh iGEM teams, as well as their supervisors and guests from the universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen. This was an extremely useful meetup, lasting from 10:00-16:00 and involved many talks covering all aspects of the competition (including judging, outreach and human practices, modelling etc.). It was great to meet the Edinburgh students that we had been in contact with via email and hear their advice on how best to approach the medal requirements. They also informed us of mistakes that they have learned from in the past, such as the importance of accurately labelling DNA submissions for shipment. Each of the three iGEM teams (Edi UG, OG and St Andrews) gave 20 minute presentations on their projects. This included the progress so far in the wet lab and modelling, as well as future aims for the summer and areas still in consideration. Each presentation was followed by about half an hour of questioning from the audience, which helped the teams consider improvements and missing aspects of their current projects. In addition to these presentations, supervisors of each team gave talks on their specialties. For example, there was a large focus on the importance of integrated human practices, and how we could change an aspect of our project in response to meetings with stakeholders. We were also lucky enough to hear Will Wright, an after iGEM ambassador, speak about the giant jamboree, and how this is an exciting opportunity to present our projects and connect with like-minded people. The strong benefits of taking part in the iGEM competition were highlighted and we were encouraged to enjoy the experience. Overall, we were extremely lucky to be able to reach out to a more experienced team who helped us better understand the requirements of iGEM and to make improvements on our project that we otherwise would not have considered.