Throughout the whole month of July, our iGEM team presented to middle and high schools student on what iGEM is, the field of synthetic biology, and our project. These students are part of Camp BioE, a multiweek summer intensive camp that covers different areas of biology and bioengineering. Before the camp started we realized that synthetic biology can be confusing, so we included fun, interactive games to better explain the topic. Our presentation to the students offered a balance of teaching students valuable information, getting students interested in synthetic biology, and engage the students to create a lifelong memory. We wanted to encourage them to recognize and learn about synthetic biology and someday become future iGEMers!
Translating with Camp Bio-E
Some of the students at the Bio-E camp did not speak English or English was not their first language. Luckily, one of our iGEM members, Tucker, was able to speak Spanish fluently and aid each of the students to fully understand synthetic biology and other camp topics. Tucker helped translate information regarding our presentation about synthetic biology, communicated the rules and expectations of their work, explained experiments they ran during the camp, helped to guide their work in developing their own project and presentation, and more.
Portersville Christian School
Our first stop on our journey of presenting synthetic biology was a small school outside of Pittsburgh called Portersville Christian School. We specifically wanted to present to students not only in the city of Pittsburgh but the surrounding areas as well. We also wanted to inspire students by showing them some of the new technologies that are available and provided them information about ways they can get involved. We presented the students with fundamental information about the synthetic biology field along with showing them our project and providing ways they can get involved in the field.
During the first week of July, we presented to students at the Crossroads Foundation, a non-profit organization that’s goal is to provide academic resources to students. Although this program was not specifically geared toward biology or science, our team realized how important gathering a multitude of educational information at a young age is and wanted to reach out to a multitude of different programs and schools. The high school students were eager to learn about synthetic biology along with the CRISPR-Cas9 system and were ecstatic to play the games we had prepared for them.
TECBio & DiSCoBio
This year’s iGEMers also presented to Training and Experimentation in Computational Biology (TecBio) and The Drug Discovery, Systems and Computational Biology (DiSCoBio) programs at the University of Pittsburgh. These two programs are for college students wanting to gain first-hand experience in the field of systems and computational biology. Even though these students were already knowledgeable in the field of science, we were able to introduce them to the field of synthetic biology, demonstrated the outline and functionality of our research, and illustrate how synthetic biology and CRISPR are applicable to all fields of science and that they can use this information in their own work. Here, the college students from around the globe were able to ask thorough questions that made us analyze our project. Presenting to these students was beneficial because it prepared us for the types of in-depth questions we receive.
Central Catholic High School
Through our connections with presenting at Camp BioE, the iGEM team was invited to a local Pittsburgh school, Central Catholic High School. The team presented to two honors Biology classes along with one Advanced Placement Biology class. Here, we presented more advanced material to the high schoolers, going more in-depth about the function of our project. We also provided resources to local Pittsburgh iGEM opportunities and the growing field of synthetic biology. The team also incorporated games to tie together the material we presented in a more learnable setting.
Integrated Human Practices
Throughout the course of our research, the team reached out to various experts and knowledgeable individuals about CRISPR and biology to help advance our project and understanding of synthetic biology. It is important for us to gain a wide range of different viewpoints to consider in our project.
We also want to thank these specific individuals for taking the time to listen and answer our questions.
Santaigo Molina is a sociology Ph. D candidate with the University of California Berkeley who interviews scientists to determine how certain organizations work, how practices change, and how specific scientists interact with each other. We discussed how small groups of scientists regulating themselves behind closed doors led to the initial public distrust of genetically modified organisms. He advised that it was not okay to rely purely on technological expertise as the basis for deciding public policy. Instead, we agreed that keeping the public informed of our intentions was an appropriate measure. As a result we made an effort to include intuitive information about our project in every presentation afterwards.
Our conversation also touched upon FDA regulation. We learned that how you classify a technology has great impact on both the procedures for government approval and the public perception. For example, there are completely different branches of the FDA that deal with biological technologies vs drugs vs medical devices. Classifying our system as a probiotic, for example ( if CUTSCENE transformed E.Coli were used to record chemical concentrations in the gut), might mean less restrictions and requirements initially. However, this “obscuring” of the full details of our product could lead to public backlash. Keeping this in mind, we decided to pursue a more research-tool oriented approach for our system until the regulations behind CRISPR applications were established in public policy. This perspective was one of the key reasons behind our decision to use blue light mediated promoters and repressors in our system: this signal type is much more suited to a lab or industrial application than a medical one.
Dr. W. Seth Childers, Ph.D
Dr. W. Seth Childers is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Childers teaches a course on Synthetic Biology which encouraged us to reach out. He was able to give us applications for our project, the main one being quorum sensing. He also provided an important consideration that shaped the way we approached our project which was to analyze the efficiency of our CRISPR Cas9 system. In particular, we discussed how many applications, ranging from pollutant recording to cancer detection, needed temporal resolution on the order of hours rather than days. He recommended looking into bacterial replication rate as a means for increasing base editing, which led directly to our dilution experiments. As a result, our CUTSCENE system applications have the potential to be greatly expanded. Lastly, Dr. Childers was able to suggest other individuals he knows in the synthetic biology field that we would be able to discuss with.
Dr. Warren C. Ruder, Ph.D
Dr. Warren C. Ruder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He was able to guide us towards different techniques such as qPCR and was able to provide us possible applications for our project. When we presented our research to Dr. Ruder, he also provided key questions to think about and was helpful during the explaining process.
Dr. Weixin Tang
Dr. Weixin Tang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Tang was an author on the prevalent paper, CAMERA, in which we incorporated significant ideas from into our own iGEM research. She explained important questions such as what bacterial generations were. We were able to time our experiment the CAMERA paper’s time of bacterial generations. Tang also suggested using higher efficiency cells which aided our transformations. Overall, she was able to give a multitude of advice on how to tweak our project to obtain better outcomes. When we reached We greatly appreciate Dr. Weixin Tang for taking the time by answering our questions in which expanded our research.
At the beginning of our iGEM research, we set up a meeting with an IDT representative, Chris Johnson. Chris was able to aid us when it came to our troubleshooting of our repetitive DNA sequences. He also was able to assist us with our research with his own descriptive experiences and advice to manage our time.