AbstractHuman practice has been a focus of Neon Coli since the very start. While building our project, we were eager to explore whether and how our design is going to have an impact on different groups of people in our society. Our members helped to communicate the concept of synthetic biology, not only to students in cities, but through teaching assistance programs to those underdeveloped areas in China. As our system aims at expression optimization, we conducted surveys to investigate how it is going to help improve other iGEM teams’ projects. Through discussions and meet ups, we took advices on how to adapt the NEON system to other teams uses, and how our designs could be better integrated and simplified.
Team Tsinghua has always been an active force in the public education of synthetic biology. This year we went to Changsha Yali High School, Hunan, where the 27th China High School Biology Olympiad was being held. Also we prepared synthetic biology lectures for students at the Tsinghua summer school. By introducing iGEM and our project, we hope to attract more young masterminds to the field of synthetic biology.
As we aim to expand our public education program, we held a conference with members in the conjoint Chinese-International teaching assistance programs, discussing how we were going to help communicate the idea of science and biology to those students in economically and educationally underdeveloped area in China.
As an active member of the community, Tsinghua is well engaged in meeting and sharing with other universities and iGEM teams. We attended the annual meetup held at Beijing Normal University at the beginning of this year, sharing our experiences. Our presentation was awarded with the First Prize. In summer, we shared the history of our iGEM projects with students from USTC.
At the end of August, Tsinghua attended the 5th CCiC hosted by Shanghai Tech. CCiC, the biggest iGEMer community in China, provided us with a great opportunity to establish new friendships and renew old ones. We received much help from other teams in many ways. Team Peking, in particular, generously shared a new transformation technique. Also in September, we attended a regional meet up held by UCAS, through which we laid the foundation for further collaborations among iGEM teams in Beijing and Tianjin.
During the Chinese national holiday, Tsinghua and Tsinghua-A team held an exhibition on synthetic biology at Chinese Science and Technology Museum (CSTM). By introducing visitors to microorganisms and microscopes we gave them a basic understanding of microbiology. We provided graphs of bacteria for children and encouraged them to design their own bacteria. We even provided florescent bacteria with GFP, RFP and YFP plasmids for children to draw on LB plates. Later we sent the pictures of their bacterial painting back. We also talked about the mechanism of allergy which is closely related to Tsinghua A's project. Members from both teams had a great time and we are looking forward to further collaborations.
At the beginning of our project, we were aiming to design a bacterial neon light. In order to maximize fluorescent signal we designed a positive feedback loop. However our pilot study indicated a massive leakage problem, and this positive feedback circuit was entirely out of control. Trying to fix this we asked around in a regional meet up in Peking University. We weren’t surprised when we found out that half of the teams suffer from promotor leakage and nearly all of them have troubles controlling expression. So we shifted our attention to a more practical issue and designed Neon Coli, the Necessary Expression Only E. coli. We improved the original positive feedback circuit and made it tunable, which enables it to optimize expression, facilitate signal detection and assist in synthetic biology computations. Throughout the course of our project, we used surveys and interview sessions to evaluate how our progress is going to best fulfill its purpose.
According to the questionnaires we sent out at the CCiC, most teams included bacteria as their chassis, and nearly half of them used quorum sensing in their project. Many of the teams have introduced signal amplification/termination process into their circuits. From these statistics we realized that some of the problems such as leakage and lack of robustness are universal. Some teams provided their solutions, like changing the vector/sensor/promoter and decreasing plasmid copy number, but most admitted that they had no idea if these methods would work. This is why NEON system is important: it might provide a solution to improve unsatisfying expression results. Finally, nearly all of the teams agreed that our project would be one prospecting solution to their problems. To us, this was a great encouragement and urged us to further explore the potential of our NEON system.
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