HUMAN PRACTICES: SILVER
Notre Dame Collegiate High School
When we were introduced to the Notre Dame Collegiate iGEM team at the aGEM (Alberta) competition, we were extremely impressed by the hard work that these younger students accomplished in their project. It was evident though that their access to necessary equipment was severely limited, to the point that they were required to build their own incubator. Touched by the heart put into their project, we offered for their team to visit our labs and conduct some of their final assays needed as a proof of concept for their team. Along with supporting their lab work, our resident graphic designer created a new logo for their project, which was used as a base model to teach their dry lab subgroup the basics of design. This logo was replicated by one of their team members, and is now used on their wiki. The members of the team we interacted with were all very appreciative and ready to learn. We hope to catch-up with their team at the jamboree and cheer them on.
University of Lethbridge
Prior to meeting at the North American iGEM Kickoff, we hoped to collaborate with the University of Lethbridge iGEM team in developing a proof of concept. Excitingly, our projects had a clear area of overlap, resulting in a mutually beneficial collaboration. We provided a gene editing system, which complimented Lethbridge’s delivery vector. Our entire system could be encapsulated in Lethbridge’s protein nanocompartments. As such, both of the projects could be tested together to provide compelling results. At the kickoff, we further discussed possibilities and logistics regarding this partnership. Both teams worked to prepare the delivery system and target DNA sequences, though results are still to come!
As a fellow Canadian team, we hoped for an ongoing relationship with the Queens Canada iGEM team. Coincidentally, both members of the uCalgary team and the Queens team were also participating in a second research competition called the Canada Reduced Gravity Experiment (Can-RGX). Can-RGX is a nationwide competition wherein four collegiate teams were selected to prototype and test an experiment in micro-gravity through parabolic flight. Through Can-RGX, relationships were formed very early in the year between members of both teams, which continued to pay dividends for the remainder of the summer. Cooperative planning and troubleshooting was performed throughout various meetings, both in person and over Skype. Topics such as the acquisition of funding, the ordering of complex DNA parts, and opportunities to take advantage of were shared and debated. The Queens Canada team alerted us to a promotion offered by Genscript which provided free DNA fragment synthesis, which proved integral to our project design. They also provided advice on re-designing DNA fragments which were too problematic to synthesize as single strands, aiding us in getting the ball rolling with our wet lab research. It was rewarding and refreshing to have a cooperative team with which we shared a running conversation and friendship, even for the simple ups and downs of undergraduate research. We look forward to connecting with and supporting our friends from Queen's at the Giant Jamboree soon!
Early in the planning stages of our project, we presented a project proposal to faculty members at the University of Calgary. We took this as an opportunity to share our ideas about the project to the professional community and receive feedback on our system. During this meeting, we discussed pertinent issues surrounding our project such as ethics and feasibility. We continued contact with many researchers in attendance, and as a result have received feedback integral to the success of our project.
We engaged students in the community with the creation of a lesson plan outlining simple molecular biology principles such as the central dogma, and simple synthetic biology principles such as restriction digestions and ligations. We created this lesson plan after an attempt to create a “synbio” option for the International Baccalaureate program fell through - however, we have also included these preliminary plans on our wiki to allow for others to build upon our initial ideas.
Although the general public is a difficult group to engage, we specifically initiated discussion with this group by addressing the Alberta Health Services’ Spiritual Care Advisory Committee, a group of religious thought leaders who specialize in representing the variety of belief systems that exist within our community.
We participated and hosted aGEM and the North American iGEM Kickoff. These events enabled us to establish collaborations and learn about other teams’ projects. We also received valuable feedback and knowledge from individuals involved in the iGEM and synthetic biology community after presenting our work for the first time in a critically evaluated setting.
Prior to the start of laboratory work, team members competed safety training courses offered by the University including courses in biosafety, bloodborne pathogens, and hazard assessment. These courses, along with instruction from our lab technician, prepared us to work safely during our experiments.
Our project utilized lab strains of E. coli DH5-alpha and eukaryotic HEK293T cells. These cells were handled appropriately for their risk level 1 statuses with the use of biosafety cabinets. Risks associated with possible infection and disease related to the cells were also managed. With respect to applications outside laboratory environments, extensive literature review informed how risks could evaluated and controlled.