Public Engagement and Education
We have adopted two-way science communication that is accessible to all, innovative and interactive, and takes advantage of technologies to communicate aspects of our project, and related issues. Of the general public, we engaged with families, over 200 Year 8 students (12-13 year olds), over 150 sixth formers (16-17 year olds), and adults.
Encouraging Families to Aid Glowworm Conservation Efforts
After reading up on the conservation of fireflies and how harvesting of fireflies (e.g. for luciferase extraction) used to contribute to a decline in firefly populations, Asal consulted Amit for his take. He explained that yes, this was a problem, but is no longer an issue where luciferase extraction is concerned, and that we should instead focus on British glowworm conservation efforts. She decided to promote this to very young children at our more family based events:
At the Biology Rocks event held at the National Museum in Cardiff, Asal ran an enzymatic luciferase demo to demonstrate the reaction whilst describing how genes work to two year olds all the way to 15 year olds. We linked our stall to a microscope demo next to us (swabbing cheeks). She talked to young children about glowworms eating snails and making luciferase that can be used to follow genes. She also encouraged them to add their drawings of glowworms to our poster, resulting in 36 drawings.
Excerpt used to explain the issue alongside a colourful poster
You are made up of cells. (picture of child swabbing cheek viewing under microscope).
Your cells contain genes 'plugs' that switch on to make you you.
To give you brown eyes. Your nails. Attached earlobes.
All living things have genes. Your plants. Your pet dog. Your dad.
We can follow them using reporters like luciferase. It glows.
To find out what genes do when switched on.
When here and there.
Luciferase comes from fireflies. They glow at night.
They were once harvested for their light. And because people liked looking at them.
And for luciferase. They lived less and made fewer babies. This is not done much any more.
Fireflies are protected in many places now. And luciferase is made in other ways.
However, glowworm homes are under threat!
They are also beetles that glow, and make luciferase. They love eating slugs.
We built railway tracks. And took their homes. We are worried about losing them.
You can help give them new homes. In your garden. You can build log piles and sediments.
Synthetic Biology on Mars
We held an interactive workshop at a Live Mars event, which over 200 Year 8 students attended! The workshop was led by Rob and Dan with the aim of introducing Year 8 students to synthetic biology, and in particular the use of genetic engineering of fluorescent markers, and its relevance to potential life on Mars. We held an interactive activity for Year 8 students that aided kinaesthetic learning to explain how luciferase from fireflies and GFP from jellyfish can be genetically engineered into E. coli to produce E. coli that glow. To achieve this, they designed and used 3D printed models of jellyfish, a firefly, and a rod shaped E. coli bacterium along with 'gene plugs' of GFP, luciferase, and other fluorescent reporters that students plugged into the E. coli to make it glow different colours. This kinesthetic approach to learning seemed suitable for engaging Year 8 students into a new subject the overall reception was positive.
Inter-team Outreach-from Coventry to Paris to Xiamen to Toronto
Chris and David attended the European Meet Up in Paris, joining 300 people from 11 countries, and the head of iGEM. They presented a poster, and took part in discussions on ethics. Andrew and Chris took part in the UK meet up in Westminster, which over 15 teams from around UK attended. Alongside giving PowerPoint and poster presentations, they discussed future design work, e.g. a paper based detector, with Warwick. Chris was on Toronto iGEM's panel in a public event, in which he discussed application of synbio in LEDCs and how to increase availability of new synbio based technologies. Asal sent XMU China a written piece to for their online magazine feature on iGEM teams, and ran a stall alongside Sheffield and Warwick to promote synthetic biology and our project to sixth formers.
Engaging 16-17 year olds in discussion with luciferase demos
We held a stall at the LIVE STEM conference, which 90 sixth formers attended. We made our stall interactive and spoke about our project whilst encouraging discussion, and performing a luciferase demonstration as a tool. We held three open day stalls, one alongside Warwick Univeristy and Sheffield University to promoted our project.
Science Cafe Talk-Synbio, STI self testing, and a pint
An interactive talk at the Cardiff Science Cafe by Asal and Rob proved a popular night of pop culture references, two-way questioning, prizes, and surveying attendants on home testing kits before revealing our investigation results. We promoted our project, and asked the audience to complete our survey, followed by questions and a discussion. Asal and Rob engaged in a discussion with the audience about our investigation into self testing kits for STIs, making others aware of the negative aspects as well as the positive when discussing our investigation results. We finished off by promoting glowworm conservation.
We had several articles published about our team and project in our award winning student newspaper, Gair Rhydd, to gather interest. Our team, project, and human practices efforts were featured in XMUChina's newsletter, which was circulated among iGEM teams, and on their social media, for wider public consumption. We were active on Twitter, on which we were followed by and retweeted by various organisations e.g. MHRA, BioSure, many iGEM teams, SynbiCite etc.