Science Fair Description
On Wednesday, September 12, we hosted a Biology Fair at the Carmel Valley Library in the Community Room from 3:00-5:00 pm. Our goal for the fair was to give young students in the community exposure to the life sciences and to potentially spark their interest in learning more about biology. We set up 8 different stations around the room that all had simple activities for the students to try, and different members of the team attended to each station to help the students participate in the activities and to answer questions. Some of the activities that students could try included participating in an online Kahoot! quiz on the work of ecologists, using marshmallows and toothpicks to make a model of the DNA double helix structure, matching DNA with RNA and RNA to amino acids, building models of proteins, guessing the number of chromosomes in different organisms, practicing using a microscope to look at common items and using pipettes to transfer colored water, and making models of plant and animal cells with candy. Students seemed to enjoy learning about all of the different subjects and getting to do hands-on activities, and they gained exposure to both basic concepts of biology as well as simple lab procedures.
Interview with Dr. Eric Schmelz
On Friday, September 14, some of our team members visited Professor Eric Schmelz’s lab at the University of California, San Diego to discuss our project and ask for feedback on it. We inquired about background information on fungi and bacteria’s effects on plants, potential ethical issues that could arise from the development of our project, how to address those issues, and suggestions and improvements for our project. From this interview, we learned that different fungi have different effects on the growth of plants, and that these effects can be both positive or negative, and Professor Schmelz reminded us of previous cases in history where fungi and bacteria had significant negative effects on plants. We learned how people have overcome the threats of fungi and bacteria on plants in the past, such as by creating more diversity among plants so that those that are resistant to the fungi and bacteria are able to populate. We learned that there are political and religious issues that need to be addressed, and the unknown effects of altering certain jumping genes on the human body. As for suggestions for our project, Professor Schmelz encouraged us to try enzyme evolution to further expand the scope our results, and we integrated his suggestion into our wetlab work as part of the project.
Synthetic Biology Presentations and Workshops
Two members from the Human Practices team, Kishan Shah and Alina Ho, held weekly Synthetic Biology Club meetings in an effort to teach students about biotechnology and recruit members for the iGEM Team. They held weekly club meetings at Torrey Pines High School, wherein they gave presentations and led lab procedures. Topics covered in the club included DNA structure, transcription and translation, gel electrophoresis, PCR, bacteria, transformation, plate streaking, restriction enzyme digests, and CRISPR/Cas9. The members gave us overwhelmingly positive feedback and expressed excitement that they could apply what they were learning in class. The club sparked interests in biotechnology and prepared the members for more extensive involvement in synthetic biology. Many also joined our iGEM team.
In addition to the club presentations, our team also visited other high schools in the area to promote iGEM. We discussed the main premise around the organization and how they can make their own team and succeed. The human practices team also visited many libraries and elementary schools where they introduced the topic of biology and some basic synthetic biology concepts to young students. In an effort to engage these students, the team came up with creative activities that the students could complete to gain a better understanding of the subject. The team members also incorporated aspects from our experiment into the presentation in a way that the kids would understand the basic ideology of our experiment. Educating the community about the field of science, especially at a young age, is beneficial as it will prepare them for the future of biotechnology!
Kishan poses with a young student and his DNA model made from candy!
Evergreen Nursery interview
On Wednesday, October 10, team members visited Evergreen Nursery in Carmel Valley, San Diego to discuss our project and its potential effects on the plants grown at the nursery with one of their managers, Mr. Wally Kearns. We specifically wanted to learn how often fungal crop failure occurs, what the nursery does to combat crop failure, the nursery’s opinions on chemical and natural remedies to fungi-caused problems, and how our project could be applicable at the nursery. From this discussion, we learned that fungi is more prevalent in the winter due to less evaporation of water on plant leaves, which leads to mildew growth. The nursery has seen the effects mildew has had on some of its plants, as their crops have grown at a significantly faster rate and become more fleshy. We learned that Evergreen Nursery uses different methods to combat crop failure, including different chemicals, fungicides (only for non-edible crops), and sprays. To prevent crop failure, they have began eliminating overhead watering, and they cut off the roots of plants if they are found to have been affected by fungi. We found that Evergreen Nursery prefers organic remedies to treat fungal crop failure over using chemicals, since chemicals can be detrimental to humans, are costly, and allow fungal resistance to develop more quickly. Mr. Kearns stated our project would have a significant impact on Evergreen Nurseries plants, and he also commented that if our project’s chitinase were to be developed into a spray or powder that the fungi were unable to build resistance against, the product would likely be very successful in the agriculture business.
Interview with Chino Farm
On Thursday, October 11, team members visited Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe to discuss our project and its potential effects on the crops grown at the farm with the owner, Mr. Tom Chino. We specifically wanted to learn how often fungal crop failure occurs at Chino Farm, what the farm does to combat crop failure, their opinions on chemical and natural remedies to fungi-caused problems, and how our project could be applicable at the farm. From this discussion, we learned that fungal crop failure is more prevalent in the winter at the farm, and that fungi tends to target their strawberries and potatoes. We also learned that their cucumbers and melons have been affected by common mildew, and that the USDA visited their farm to find ways to make their crops more resistant to fungi. Tom told us of how Dr. Wesley Bohn introduced them to the first mildew resistant gene, PMR1 and PMR2, and how he introduced them to French breeders who provided them with seeds of plants that are resistant to mildew, which has helped them combat fungal crop failure. Tom shared how he believes using chemicals to treat crop failure is sometimes a “necessary evil,” and that he is interested in using organic remedies if they are scientifically proven to be the most effective ways of preventing crop failure. He also introduced us to the fact that some scientists have been using CRISPR to try and tackle fungal crop failure. Tom told us he believes our project could be helpful to their farm’s productivity, if we were able to ensure our chitinase’s effectiveness and eliminate unwanted consequences. The interview question and answers are below.