The iGEM competition is not just about trying to create the coolest genetically modified organism. The iGEM competition is about contributing to cleaner, safer and better tomorrow. Your team’s GMO is one part of that story, the second part is sharing your story. We, the Groningen iGEM team of 2018, believed that we could deliver a better tomorrow by going out there and engage with all the people around us. Therefore, public engagement and education has been a core aspect of our iGEM project. We invested a lot of time and effort in attending public events at an early stage to get the dialogue going. This provided a fresh perspective for both our team and the people we spoke with. With regards to education, we engaged with all the layers that are defined in the Dutch education system, from elementary school all the way to applied university. The movie center of the university even made a video about us:
The Dutch Biotechnology Conference (22nd May 2018)
This year our iGEM team was fortunate enough to be invited to the Dutch biotechnology conference. On the 22nd of May two members of our iGEM team woke up at the crack of dawn to travel to Ede and attend the conference. The conference opened with a welcome speech, poster presenters could pitch their idea. Most of the pitches were from PhD students, but the Dutch iGEM teams also pitched their idea. Here we also gave a short pitch of our idea. After the introduction we got the opportunity to walk around the congress. We walked by the many company stands and posters, looking for inspiration and collaboration opportunities.This was also a nice moment to talk to the other iGEM teams about how their iGEM was going. The projects were explained and helpful feedback was exchanged. During the day many interesting topics were presented by Phds but also by biotech professionals. In between the talks we presented our poster to people and answered questions. Here we also received lots of useful feedback and pointers from various people who had worked on similar projects. After a long, but fruitful day we returned home with a notebook full of new ideas and many new contacts who were happy to help us with any future problems.
Microbiology at Shoppingmall Paddepoel (28th July 2018)
On the 28th of July we went to mall Paddepoel. Here we showed the bacteria on the hands of children after they washed them, and explained what bacteria are. To older people, we explained the possibilities of genetic modification and asked them what they thought of it. A lot of people were very eager to talk to us about it, and we had a lot of insights about how non-academia think about GMOs. We’ve added a few quotes by people who would rather be anonymous.
- I’m most certainly in favor of GMOs! It can be used for the good way, for example to make tomatoes more juicy! People already have a very big influence on the world, such as global warming and plants that go extinct. I think we have two options. We can make this big leap with genetic modification or otherwise we can not survive on this earth.
- I’m myself working to make the world a better place as well. We are with Yworks, which helps pregnant girls in Sri Lanka to build up their future by learning them to read and to write. We try to do this as local as possible, so we go there and we help them on the spot. It may be good for you as well to try to make your project more local. This way you won’t have a big company buying your idea and making a lot of money, but see for a way so that small farmers can use it. We can get each other on Facebook and share each others posts! Together is always better than alone!
- I would like the natural potatoes the best, but as long as there is still hunger, we need to be looking at alternatives.
- I think the question is where it stops. Adjusting some bacteria is fine, and I think changing your sex should be possible as well. But I’m scared that it will be like a ‘create-your-own-baby’ shop. This way rich people can pay a lot and will have very nice babies, but poor people can pay less and will therefore have babies with lower IQ, lower attractiveness and less social skills. I think this will improve the inequality among society, which is really a bad thing.
Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival Groningen (25th and 26th August 2018)
Every year this festival is organized in one of the parks in Groningen. Over 100.000 people visit this mostly free festival. While this festival focuses mainly on arts there are also initiatives to bring science closer to the people. Our own university has a special department specifically for this goal. In collaboration with them we also brought our idea to the people. Sciencelinx has created their own building blocks from bioplastic to make the idea of DNA more accessible. These building blocks were used by children to make various structures. At the festival we spent two days talking to people about bioplastic and explaining how we would make our own plastic.
Ted talk on “The Cause, Size and Solution to our Plastic Problem
On the 26th of september Bram and Owen gave a lecture the problems with plastic and how we try to tackle this problem. People were very enthusiastic about our lecture and stayed after the lecture to talk more about the problems with plastic. A lot of interest was also expressed into the specific workings of synthetic biology. The Noorderzon Festival was a nice opportunity to hear how people think about our project. Furthermore, we made people aware of the plastic problems in the world and our idea to combat these problems.
GBB Congress (13th September 2018)
On the 13th of September we went to the yearly congress of GBB, one of our sponsors. We were invited to show our poster and give a presentation about our project. Next to this, we were able to enjoy other great presentations and see other posters. Also during the social, we spoke to a lot of people who had interesting ideas about our project. One of them was ordering enzymes to see if we can degrade cellulose. Next to this we had good feedback on the presentation. Best of all, we won the price for best poster.
iGEM BBQ (5th September 2018)
To raise awareness for our project’s cause and to gain additional funds, we organized a BBQ. A few weeks before the planned date, the 5th of September, invitations were sent out to friends and colleagues. Posters and flyers were also put up around campus. On the morning of the day, team members not busy in the lab started setting up the pavilions and running other chores. Meat was picked up from butcher “de Groene Weg” who offered 4 kilos of sustainably produced meat for free. Beer was fetched from the “Baxbier” brewery, who also gave us their beer free of charge as part of their support for the iGEM team. True to their environmentally friendly theme, the iGEM team bought biodegradable cutlery. After a tiresome afternoon setting up tents and gathering all the necessary equipment and food on the lawn between the Bernoullibourg and Linnaeussborg buildings, the team was ready to accommodate their guests.
There was a turn-out of about 100 people who stayed from 3 in the afternoon until almost 11 at night. During the BBQ, the members mingled with their guests to talk about their project and its implications. To help with this, the project poster was displayed. It was also a chance for the members’ families and friends to find out exactly what they had been up to during the summer. In addition to payment for entry, the iGEM team also organized an auction with items kindly donated by their sponsors. These included: A visit to the Strip Museum, the Groningen Museum, the Northern Ship museum, tickets a concert by the Cool Quest at the Simplon, a painting by one of the iGEMers, a workshop on public speaking by the USVA, a Beer tasting and guided tour of the Baxbier Brewery and finally a private Kite Surfing lesson with one of the team’s associates from EV Biotech. The BBQ proved a great success as 1200 euros were raised for the project and as the good reputation of the iGEM competition at the University of Groningen was perpetuated.
The University of Groningen organizes the annual Education Day. The aim of the Education Day is promoting interaction among lecturers and stimulating a dialogue about what good education actually is. Visitors attended parallel sessions, dynamic workshops, poster presentations and demonstrations. Lecturers and students exchanged best practices, learned from each other and generated new ideas. Over fifty lecturers and students talked about the newest developments. We, the iGEM team of Groningen 2018, have been invited by dr. Van der Graaf of the University of Groningen to attend this years’ education day to give an workshop about what we think of the iGEM project and how it is integrated in the colloquium of the University of Groningen.
Maker Faire (29th and 30th September 2018)
The Maker Faire is a festival for everything related to new technology where young children, students and grown-ups can come together to make, discover and learn. You are able to build a glider, print whatever you can imagine using a 3D-printer or design your own game. This years’ festival was organized in Eindhoven on the 29th and 30th of September. In collaboration with Science Linx, our iGEM team had its own stand on this years’ festival. On this stand we presented the GEN.ERATE, this are red Lego-like building blocks made from bioplastic. GEN.ERATE can be used to educate children on the basics of DNA, but moreover they can be used to create enormous structures. During the event we engaged with parents in conversation about the importance of bioplastics and we taught children on the basics of DNA using the GEN.ERATE as an tool. We also found out that working on a structure like GEN.ERATE can give children an insight in spatial orientation, which is not only useful for explaining the structure of DNA but also for their general development.
International Day of Girls: ‘In-Conversation’
We were invited to attend the @WorldSummit AI 2018 2018 in Amsterdam. This annual congress is the world's leading AI summit for the entire AI ecosystem. From enterprise to big tech, startups, investors and science. This year’s summit was attended by leading names in AI including CTO AI at Microsoft Joseph Sirosh and CDS at Google Cassie Kozyrkov. Our team member Noa Leijdesdorff attended the Inspiring 50 Juniors luncheon as a mentor. This luncheon was especially organized to couple girls interested in technology and engineering to mentors in the industry, to exchange ideas and support each other. Diversity and eliminating bias in technology and engineering is important and throughout our project we aimed to contribute. It was a privilege to be able to share our project at this event and be inspired by such smart and enthusiastic women!
To keep our supporters in the loop, and celebrate our progress, we sent out our monthly newsletter: The iGem Bulletin. In this newsletter we aimed to give a clear picture of all the facets of our iGem project. Keeping our readers updated on wet- and drylab progression, human practices, public engagement and fundraising to name a few. We received great feedback from these monthly sneak-peeks into our journey.
Click here to see an example of a newsletter we sent out
We have written a lot about other companies, but those companies have also written about us, and we have even made it into a national newspaper.
Click here to see where we were featured
The Scholierenacademie is an organization that organizes activities for mainly elementary school students. The iGEM team of Groningen and Scholierenacademie have collaborated over the last few years to engage with the children from the elementary schools in East-Groningen, tangentially less fortunate socioeconomic background, to interest those children in biological sciences and the university in general. The Scholierenacademie initiated this project since research has shown that kids from the eastern part of the province Groningen tend to choose higher education less frequently. By starting really early with informing these kids about the potential of an academic career, the Scholierenacademie hopes to attract more interest and offer these kids a more informed decision. Together with Douwe van der Tuin, coordinator of the children university, we went to six primary schools to provide a guest lecture on: what is the university? What do students do? And how the children themselves can contribute to a more sustainable future. The six schools will also come over to the iGEM laboratory and do a little experiment on bioplastics themselves. We designed to separate experiment of one hour each and a tour through the university building. In total, we engaged with over 100 primary school children between 9 October and 19 October.
Science Linx is an organization which offers high school students in the Netherlands the possibility to engage with the Science and Engineering faculty of the University of Groningen. They organize and support various activities with the aim to excite kids in the sciences. The iGEM team of Groningen and Science Linx have had fruitful collaboration for many years now. One of the projects we organized in collaboration with Science Linx this year is a guest lecture for a 6VWO class (the final year before of high school before university). The focus of this lecture was placing this years’ iGEM project, producing bio-styrene in yeast from cellulose, in an ecological perspective and highlight what kind of metabolic pathways we used to achieve our styrene producing yeast. Moreover, we have setup an experiment in the lab of prof. dr. Jan Kok for this 6VWO class. On the 6th of November (after we are back from Boston) this class will work on a small scale evolution experiment.
Noorderpoort is one of the largest applied universities in the northern part of the Netherlands, which provides 170 forms of professional education for more than 14 000 students. At one of the public engagement events we hosted, we met with Harold Tammeling, coordinator of the honors college of Noorderpoort. We sat down together, the iGEM team of Groningen and mr. Tammeling, to discuss options for potential collaborations. Because we met during the final stages of our project we were unable to setup a collaboration for this year. However, we have setup a very ambitious collocation for next year. The iGEM team of Groningen will supervise honor students of the Noorderpoort, while those honor students of the Noorderport will assist the iGEM team in the fundamental laboratory work.