Team:Montpellier/Public Engagement


During our project we participated in different events with the goal of popularizing synthetic biology and presenting our project to the public. In this section, we elaborate on the different events and how we used them to promote learning and engagement in the community.

Presentation to our scientific peers: Feedback from the community

Before and after the bulk of our wet lab research during the summer, we presented our project to our colleagues at our host institution, the Centre de Biochimie Structurale (Center for Structural Biology) in Montpellier, for feedback. Additionally, we presented at the end of the summer to the DGIMI lab (Diversity Genomes & Insect Microorganisms Interactions, INRA) to further refine our scientific presentation skills and to obtain additional feedback from scientists in a broad range of sub-disciplines.

Fête de la Science

On October 5th and 6th, we participated in the ‘Fête de la science’ at the Faculty of Education at the University of Montpellier, a large, annual nationwide event to promote interaction between the public and the scientific community. There, we taught 10-15 year old students and their parents about DNA, bacteria, and genetically modified organisms.

Figure 1: Poster explaining synthetic biology to children and the public.

We brought several teaching aids with us, including a model of a DNA double helix, posters explaining synthetic biology (Figure 1), and a small game where the children would need to arrange promoters, ribosome binding sites, genes, and terminators to construct a complete ‘sentence’.

Figure 2: Plate with bacteriART, E. coli producing mKate2 and sfGFP.

Additionally, to spark visual interest and foster interaction, we brought several Petri dishes with bacteria. Some were without antibiotics and contained swabs from different parts of the body to visually illustrate the microbiome; others contained works of bacteriART (Figure 2), drawings using E. coli expressing either mKate2 or super-folder GFP to draw in passersby with their bright colors. While we enjoyed explaining our project and synthetic biology to the community (Figure 3), we were incredibly impressed the number of thoughtful questions we received and the depth of curiosity people showed about synthetic biology. Even the parents were interested in learning more about our Vagineering project!

Figure 3: Our booth at the ‘Fête de la Science’ in the Montpellier Science Village.

Organizing High School-Level Lecture and Lab Practical

In collaboration with the iGEM team from the Sorbonne University, we also organized and participated in two lectures for a high school class, with a corresponding lab practical. In the first class, we presented an overview lecture about DNA and mutations with a hands-on practical lab component (Figure 4). During the lecture, we explained how DNA is copied and transferred between generations and how subsequent interference can lead to mutations. This was coupled with experiments where yeast were exposed to UV rays for different durations. This showed them the changing of color of some colonies (we used Ade2 mutant that were originally red and got back to a white color) and the difference of number of colonies During the second class the following week, we analyzed the results of the experiment with the students, followed by an introductory lecture on synthetic biology and our iGEM project. We hope to have kindled some interest in their young minds to join the next generation of iGEMers.

Figure 4: Pictures of the class.

Synthetic Biology Workshop, a feedback from students

On October 10th, we presented a lecture on the principles of synthetic biology our Vagineering project to two classes of master’s degree students: one studying Health Biology/Bioproduction and the other Host Microorganism interactions (Figure 5).

Over 90 minutes, we covered an overview of synthetic biology, techniques used in both wet lab and modeling, and an account of our Vagineering project and the iGEM competition in general.

As many of these students could be future iGEMers as early as next year, we sought to spark their interest in not only the opportunity to conceive of and pursue a research project but also our efforts to popularize our project and interact with the community at large.

Figure 5: Lecture on Host Microorganism Interactions to Master 1 students at the University of Montpellier.

Press Coverage

Smile, you're on camera! The promotion of our iGEM project is important for fostering awareness of our project. As the first iGEM team to come from Montpellier, we were fortunate to be interviewed by several publications of the print and news media.

June 6, 2018: EUSynbioBeta

June 29, 2018: MadmoiZelle
Vagineering, pour qu’une bactérie devienne un moyen de contraception

July 28, 2018: Inspira Biotech
IGEM Montpelier presents Vagineering, the proposal of a probiotic contraceptive

August 3, 2018: ChEEk MAGAZINE
Vagineering: Ils veulent faire d’une bactérie un moyen de contraception non hormonal

September 10, 2018: Midi Libre
Contraception : l’idée géniale des étudiants montpelliérains

September 12, 2018: France 3
Montpellier : 9 étudiants travaillent sur une bactérie révolutionnaire pour la contraception féminine

October 14, 2018: Blasting Pop
France : Une piste de contraception non-hormonale explorée par 9 étudiants montpelliérains


As our project concerns an important aspect of society that, nevertheless, is considered taboo in certain cultures and communities, we wanted to use the humanizing power of several artistic endeavors to further cultivate a collective conversation about our project. We deliberately sought out non-scientific artists in the community to help us with so that they might provide a unique perspective to help us bridge the gap between ourselves and members of the community. The aim of this work is to educate members of the community to the existence of the vaginal microbiota/flora and the vulva through visual media with non-scientific artists.

Social media

Artists from different backgrounds produced artwork about their ‘vision of the vulva’, the vagina, and their microbiota.

We gave prompts to the artists and let them express their creativity starting from that.
For exemple, to the question: What is your vision of a vaginal flora?
Barzoii “artistic” answer : It’s a forest inside a vulva.

The artistic visuals produced by the artists will be the bridge between the public and the scientific knowledge.

Here are some examples.

Knowledge: Vulva Anatomy

What is your vision of a vulva?

Figure 6: Illustrations made by @machuytb answering “What is your vision of the vulva?”.

Knowledge: The Vaginal Microbiota

What is a vaginal “flora”?

Figure 7: Illustration made by @barzoii answering “What is a vaginal flora?”.

Knowledge: Bacteria, Microbiota

What is living inside of the vagina?

Figure 8: Illustration made by @00mars2028 answering “What is living inside of the vagina?”.

“Spotlight”: A local popularization event

Figure 9: SPOTLIGHT event cover (by Weven).

In collaboration with our Art in Education series, we organized an event with a local art association called “Weven”.

The event will invite eight different artists, including photographers, sketch artists, and painters. The "Night" will be an exhibition with light and music, and the aim of this event is (As “Art In Education”). Moreover, people will be able to discuss with the artists, and with us.

The aim of this event is to popularize synthetic biology and our project through the vision of non-scientific artist.

Artists picked one of more of the following prompts and are creating a piece. They presented their artwork during the event which took place in November 2018.

Picture: Julien and Tamara at the Spotlight event.

About Synthetic Biology

In your point of view, what is a Gene?
What Is a Biobrick?
How does gene synthesis look like?


We asked the artist to make an artistic version of the Synthetic Biology parts and give their idea of what it is.

Genetically Engineered Machines
What is a Genetically Engineered Machine?
How will be our future by using the G.E.M?

About our subject

Vulva Anatomy
What is your vision of a vulva?

Vaginal Microbiota/Flora
What is a vaginal “flora”?
What is a bacterium?

How sensitive is a vagina?
How sensitive is a vulva?
How does a genital disease look like?

What is your point of view?
Whats is a spermicidal molecule?
Taking the birth control pill, how does it feels?

What do people think about menstruations?
How do you feel when you have your periods?
What do you think one can feel when they have their periods?

Picture: Kuro made an art piece answering: What Is your vision of a vulva?
Picture: Nui made an art piece answering: How do you feel when you have your period?

Comic Book: Synthetic Biology & the Vaginal Microbiota

With the help of the artist Minskiga (@Minskiga on Instagram), we created a comic book with two objectives in mind:

  • To educate the community about contraceptives and how synthetic biology can be applied to them, and
  • To provide a bridge between complex scientific information and those unfamiliar with the subjects through striking visuals and a compelling story.

Minskiga is an art school student without any formal education in biology, and therefore will have her own reactions to and perception of scientific ideas, which is precisely the perspective we were looking for. She uses her art skills to describe something that is difficult to do to people unversed in scientific vocabulary.

For example, we worked with Minskiga to provide a definition of synthetic biology (Figure 10).

Figure 10:

This page is the result of fruitful discussions with the artist, with the aim of entertaining the public and educating them in the fundamentals of synthetic biology.

Additionally, through social networks and our survey, we received many questions from an interested public and this comic book provided an outlet to answer those questions in the form of a vibrant storyline.

This comic book is the result of more than three months of work, but will soon be finished and disseminated into the community. You can find out much more about the comic book in our Integrated Human Practices page!