Team:BostonU HW/Human Practices

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Human Practices

An important part of developing a system is evaluating the impact TERRA will have on various communities. Through our interactions with the synthetic biology and microfluidics communities, we were able to gauge the effect of TERRA within these groups. Additionally, our outreach also served to educate the greater STEM community and in doing so, help bridge the knowledge gap barring many from the field of microfluidics. All of the feedback we received from these interactions helped improved the design, usability, and accessibility of TERRA.

Throughout the summer, our team has worked with STEM Pathways, an outreach program sponsored by the National Science Foundation aimed to inspire and engage students in synthetic biology and engineering. We participated in various outreach events hosted on the Boston University campus, such as Summer Pathways on July 18, 2018 and Day of Learning on August 4, 2018.

During these events, our team introduced the basics of microfluidics to rising high school students and led microfluidics-based activities for hands-on learning. The events started with a brief overview of synthetic biology and its impact on our world, then led to activities for synbio and microfluidics.

We began our activity by briefly explaining the components of microfluidic chips and the advantages of incorporating microfluidics into synthetic biology. Our activity involved creating paper representations of potential microfluidic chips for synthetic biology protocols, such as ligation or PCR. This allowed the students to understand the thought process behind creating a chip design and how features of the chip accomplish steps in the protocol. Our team then led a tour of our lab space, where we distributed microfluidic devices and walked the students through the goals and basic workflow of the lab.

Our team has also designed a new activity that will be implemented in future outreach events. The students will be able to create droplets similar to those in droplet-based microfluidic devices using common culinary ingredients. This aims to be a highly-interactive, hands-on activity that engages students and increases interest in microfluidics.

We also assisted with high school lab trainings and the Biobuilder Panel. During the high school lab training, members from our team hosted and taught a group of high school students basic laboratory skills and synthetic biology protocols. We demonstrated pipetting, plating cells, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) protocols. The Biobuilder Panel was an event hosted in LabCentral for local high school STEM educators in order to better incorporate synthetic biology into the current science curriculum. We participated in a discussion of undergraduates performing research in the field of synthetic biology. Our team shared our iGEM research project to illustrate a current project aimed to assist synthetic biologist.

Northeastern iGEM (NEGEM)
In order to engage with the iGEM community, our team collaborated with the BostonU team to organize and host the Northeastern iGEM Meetup (NEGEM) on July 6, 2018. The BostonU, BostonU Hardware, Harvard, MIT, and UConn teams gathered at NEGEM to present their current projects and progress, as well as share and receive advice among teams. We provided feedback forms for all teams per presentation in order make it easier for comments and questions to be recorded and used to improve the presentations and projects.

Our team gave a twenty minute presentation introducing the applications of microfluidics in synthetic biology and our project, TERRA, to our fellow iGEM teams, most of whom had not been exposed to the field of microfluidics prior. We explained the general workflow of manufacturing and testing microfluidic devices, as well as discussed the impact of our project to the microfluidic industry and greater scientific community. We then received feedback on our presentation and answered questions regarding the function and applicability of TERRA. The general consensus was that our presentation on microfluidics as a field was clear, but there were questions of how sterile microfluidic chips were and the cost of our system. We incorporated this feedback to our project by creating a sterilization protocol and a cost analysis of our system.

Overall, NEGEM provided an opportunity for iGEM teams to discuss collaborations and obtain valuable feedback and advice from fellow teams and team mentors to further projects.

On July 20, 2018, our team had the opportunity to speak to research scientists at Fraunhofer Center of Manufacturing Innovation. One of Fraunhofer CMI's interests is integrating microfluidics with biomedical engineering to produce diagnostic devices. During our visit, we presented our work on TERRA and discussed the role it would play in the field of microfluidics. The scientists at Fraunhofer described the current state of the microfluidics field, raising concerns of the lack of documentation and standardization of microfluidic devices.

When we explored these concerns further, our team realized that if we were to build an application-agnostic system, we would have to account for the lack of standardization of microfluidic chips. In order to ensure TERRA is compatible with chips of all sizes and designs, we needed a method of standardizing the input to our system. Our team created the idea of a scalable, standardized microfluidic chip that would act as an adapter to our system: the TERRA Adapter.

Click here for more on the TERRA Adapter:

Phenomyx is a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts which works with circulating tumor cells and building a system for the phenotypic screening of the metastatic potential of CTCs. They incorporate microfluidic devices with biology in many of their products and workflows.

On July 3rd, 2018, our team met with Salil from Phenomyx and presented information about our system TERRA and our motivations and goals of our project. We discussed the potential applications of TERRA and how our system would fit into the workflow of microbiologists and the microfluidic industry.

Salil suggested that our system should be able to operate with various designs of microfluidic devices, not only chips fabricated using the Boston University CIDAR Lab protocol. This would increase the accessibility of TERRA to the greater microfluidic and synthetic biology community. To incorporate Salil’s feedback, we developed the TERRA Adapter. This microfluidic device allows our system to be compatible with any microfluidic chip by taking the output of a chip and controlling the dispensal of the output. This allows our system to be compatible with a variety of microfluidic devices and standardizes the control element of our system.

Click here for more on the TERRA Adapter:

Do-it-yourself Biology Labs
Do-it-yourself biology labs are community labs that aim to democratize biotechnology by hosting public workshops and community projects, supporting aspiring scientists in the community, and making lab equipment more accessible. A unique aspect of DIY bio labs is their push for open-source lab equipment because acquiring lab equipment, even secondhand, is difficult. Due to the DIY and open-sourced nature of TERRA, we believed that TERRA could be adopted by DIY bio labs to streamline their workflows and increase the accessibility of microfluidics. To learn more about the greater DIY bio space and the obstacles they face in regards to adopting microfluidics, we reached out to BosLab and Cap City Biohackers, which are DIY bio labs located in Boston and Columbus respectively.

Our discussion with BosLab gave our team insight to the obstacles inhibiting widespread adoption of microfluidics. While many scientists are aware of microfluidics and its
potential advantages, the lack of standardization and useful demonstrations have left scientists skeptical to adopting a microfluidic platform. For example, past microfluidic workshops at BosLab did not effectively demonstrate and explain how to utilize microfluidics for general scientists.

Because of this gap in communication, we realized that the user’s experience with TERRA is essential for its adoption for both DIY bio labs and synthetic biologists. To support users, we created extensive documentation on how to assemble and use TERRA, accompanied with descriptions, pictures, and videos. In addition, we designed the UI under the assumption that users are not microfluidics experts to ensure that scientists in a variety of fields can use TERRA.

Cap City Biohackers gave us a different perspective of the greater DIY bio space because, unlike BosLab, they are newer and currently in the process of setting up their center. We learned the general process of how labs
acquire second-hand equipment and the wide range of resources and equipment DIY bio labs have. Because TERRA is DIY and open-sourced, it was important for us to know potential manufacturing and assembly constraints of DIY bio labs. In addition, we learned different experimental applications Cap City Biohackers had in mind for both TERRA and microfluidics in general, such as small-scale fed batch experiments and automated molecular cloning. Due to a wide array of potential applications, we designed TERRA to be application-agnostic as opposed to a device for specific microfluidic experiments. To handle a wide variety of potential applications, we included flush functionality for sterility and the TERRA Adapter.

Click here to find our open-source manufacturing and assembly instructions for the XY translational stage:

Click here to find our open-source manufacturing and assembly instructions for the syringe pumps: