Team:William and Mary/Human Practices

Integrated Human Practices

This year, our team had the opportunity to share our project with several diverse groups of people: a group of middle school medical explorers, our high school summer interns, and the general public who attended our Building with Biology Public Forum. When connecting with each of these groups we shared the basics behind our project and asked for feedback on our idea as well as general opinions about the work.
Medical Explorers
These students were incredibly excited about the idea of eavesdropping in on cellular conversations. During our discussion some students were interested in the precision of our measurements, equating our “listening in” to the dynamics of signals to a game of telephone where details are lost over time. This gave us the chance to talk about our measurement of florecens and our use of both a flow cytometer and a plate reader. Although a little challenging for the younger age group, several of the students were very excited about the way the machines worked.
The other topic that dominated our conversation were the potential applications. The students wanted to know if we could put our edited bacteria into their bodies and still use the same measurements.
Team member Stephanie Do explaining our project to the Medical Explores during their tour of lab
Summer Interns
The high school students working in our lab for the month of July were more deeply involved with our project than any other groups. One of these students in particular, Davis, committed a lot of time to learning about our project, even attending our lab meetings outside of normal wet lab hours. Davis is hoping to study biomedical engineering in college and as a result was very interested in the potential medical applications of our project. His questions pushed us to think about making a system compatible with animals systems.
Team member Stephanie Do discussing potential for our project with our summer intern, Davis
Building with Biology
One of our earliest adult outreach programs was our Building with Biology Public Forum. Many adults stayed after the event to hear more about our work as an iGEM team and we were happy to share our project. The Building with Biology Forum had a strong human genome editing theme so many of the participants were primed to think about medical uses for synthetic biology. They were especially interested in the potential for our project to help measure the signals in cancer cells and the ultimate goal of not just interpreting signals but interacting with them.
Team captain Ethan Jones discussing applications of synthetic biology with community members
Impact on Our Project
In all of these conversations there was the common thread of human uses. Our project is designed to interface with natural systems and after hearing the immense interest in implementing this work in humans in particular we began looking for a system which would be compatible with in vivo applications. Eventually we settled on exchanging our chemical sensitive system to a temperature sensitive systems. Temperature is a property that is easy to control dynamically, and has been shown to be important in the regulation of natural systems such as those involved in bacterial pathogenicity [1] and human immune cell function. Further, the system we chose has been demonstrated to be capable of controlling synthetic circuits in vivo [2].
Education and Public Engagement
See here for our education and public engagement efforts.
[1] Nandan Kumar Jana, Siddhartha Roy, Bhabatarak Bhattacharyya, Nitai Chandra Mandal; Amino acid changes in the repressor of bacteriophage lambda due to temperature-sensitive mutations in its cI gene and the structure of a highly temperature-sensitive mutant repressor, Protein Engineering, Design and Selection, Volume 12, Issue 3, 1 March 1999, Pages 225–233,
[2] Piraner, D. I., Abedi, M. H., Moser, B. A., Lee-Gosselin, A., & Shapiro, M. G. (2016). Tunable thermal bioswitches for in vivo control of microbial therapeutics. Nature Chemical Biology, 13(1), 75-80. doi:10.1038/nchembio.2233