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Our human practice strategy is largely build upon a desire to reach beyond the iGEM community and spark an interest of synthetic biology in high school students in Denmark.


“You walk out at the end when you get old, you want to be
able to say, that was worth doing.”

Randy Rettberg, President of the iGEM-Foundation, he European Experience 2016

The educational platform for 200 high schools in Denmark has now been launched!

Our human practice strategy is largely build upon a desire to reach beyond the iGEM community and spark an interest of synthetic biology in high school students in Denmark.

In Denmark it is not possible for high school students to work with plasmid modification due to controversial rules issued by the Danish Ministry of Education1. As a consequence, very limited knowledge is passed unto the students about synthetic biology and many will only encounter this exciting field when attending university.

We want to change this!

The DTU iGEM team 2015 sketched out the first steps and initiated an exciting project that would allow high school students to work with BioBricks overcoming the Danish rules by using 3A assembly of the parts.

The DTU BioBuilders team 2016 picked up where last year's team let go together with a student organisation at DTU, Biotech Academy. With a funding close to 100,000 USD it was possible to send out kits to the Danish high schools allowing them to create their own customized Biosensors.

Project Description

Denmark is a front runner of many innovations. The biotechnology field is no exception and has been offered as a pilot class in Danish high schools since 2008 to get more biological interested students to choose a scientific direction. Even though the pilot scheme has gone well and the trial period has been expanded a couple of times, the law still restricts the possibilities of working with genetically modified organisms. One of the guidelines that the law prescribes is that only plasmids approved by the Danish Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality can be used for transformation in Danish high schools and therefore it is time consuming, expensive and difficult for teachers to be innovative in their classes.

New tools that are easy to use and contribute to a high quality level of education in biotechnology are needed to get more students interested in science so Denmark’s position as an innovative country can remain.

The Idea

Last year’s iGEM team from DTU initiated an exciting project that would allow high school students to be innovative in solving national and global problems in medicine, food and environment overcoming the troubles with money, time or the law. The project originates from the BioBrick standard and is called Biosensor. The project is about designing and creating biosensors by choosing a detection gene and a response gene, ligate them and transform it into an approved E. coli strain. The first idea was a simple free exercise for high school students, but the project has developed over the year and now has three elements: a lab kit, a website and competition.

Figure 1:The general idea of assembling genes as one assembles LEGO® bricks.

The Biosensor Exercise

The exercise consists of three parts and a test:

  1. Digestion of selected genes (2 hours)
  2. Ligation of genes (1 hour)
  3. Transformation of biosensor (3 hours)
  4. Test of biosensors

The smart thing about this schedule is that each part takes between 1-3 hours and can be paused by freezing the DNA after each part, so it fits into classes. Examples for biosensors that can be made from the kit:

  1. A biosensor that can detect when lactose is present and produce lactase to break down the lactose, so lactose intolerant people can drink milk
  2. A biosensor that can detect light, and when no light is detected produce luciferase that makes light
  3. Or just a simple biosensor that can detect mercury in cans with tuna and respond by turning red

Like the Danish company LEGO® there are many different combinations and they can solve many different types of problems.

Figure 2:An easy overview of the 3A assembly used for the high school students to create biosensors. The figure shows how the parts are assembled.

Digestion of Selected Genes

The students select the bricks they want to put in the biosensor and add the restriction enzymes to start the digestion. When the digestion is finished a heat inactivation is required in order to proceed to ligation.

Ligation of Genes

After the inactivation, the genes are ready to be ligated together. The ligation is fast and only takes an hour to complete.

Transformation of Biosensor

The ligated bricks and plasmid are ready to be put together with competent Escherichia coli cells and be transformed by heat shock. The backbone plasmid contains chloramphenicol resistance and the transformants are therefore plated on LB plates with chloramphenicol.

Test of Biosensor

A day after the transformation is done, the colonies with transformants should be there. It is sometimes necessary to test the biosensor to see if it works as expected, but it depends on the genes in the biosensor.

Figure 3:Picture of a the experimental setup at a labbench at Bagsværd Kostskole. It is important that the high schools use the blue paper for GMO exercises to follow the rules of safety.

Security of the Kit

The kit is free for all Danish high schools. The protocol has been worked out together with the subject adviser for biotechnology from the Danish Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality, Kresten Cæsar Torp and is approved by the ministry and the Danish Working Environment Authority. The result is that all parts are approved and the teachers do not have to apply for each biosensor the students choose to make.

  1. Tube with E. coli cells DH10 alpha in 15% glycerol
  2. Falcon tube
  3. Inoculation loop
  4. Shake flask
  5. Eppendorf tubes
  6. 25 detection genes
  7. 25 response genes
  8. Restriction enzymes
  9. Labtop cooler
  10. Primers
  11. Chemicals

Online Platform

All materials for the exercise is on the website website is not connected to the domain yet, but the visualization can be seen in figures 6 and 7) and the students are to submit their experimental results and describe their biosensors, so other students can look at the BioBricks and get inspired. Sharing and looking at other people’s results is a big part of synthetic biology and the students will learn how important it is to make a good characterization and report.

The platform will make it possible for teachers and students to communicate and help each other across the country, and it is especially smart when the kit is updated, so protocols are up to date.


DTU’s iGEM team will look through the reports and the best biosensors and submit them to the iGEM BioBrick registry. The best biosensor of the year will receive a prize of 5.000 DKK (750 USD). The students also has a possibility of coming up with ideas for a new biosensor. The best idea will also receive a prize of 5.000 DKK (750 USD).

Figure 4: Screenshot of an example view of the Biosensor platform.
Figure 5: Screenshot of an example view of a submitted Biosensor at the Biosensor platform.

Testing at Bagsværd Kostskole

The biosensors have been tested at our BioBrick Tutorial and have gone through a couple of changes, but of many tests make a good product. We went to a local high school to do the second test. The test went well and showed that the exercise works! The high schoolers came with feedback on what they liked and what they thought could be improved. They were thrilled that they could pick the genes they wanted to combine themselves. Figure 6 and 7 are from the testing day.

The kits are expected to be ready to be shipped in December. Feedback from the test at Bagsværd Kostskole needs to be implemented and the parts need to be amplified. We hope that the next generation of DTU BioBuilders will continue to develop the project and add new parts as time passes.

Figure 6:Happy high school students testing the Biosensor kit at Bagsværd Kostskole.
Figure 7: Concentrated high school students from Bagsværd Kostskole testing the Biosensor kit.


After this second test, the feedback has to be implemented and the kits to be amplified so it can be ready to be shipped in December. We are looking forward to add new parts as time passes.


  1. More innovation in Danish high schools
  2. Free materials
  3. Already approved by the Danish Working Enviroment Authority and the Danish Ministry of Education
  4. Students can help solve real life problems
  5. Supports the learning targets of biotechnology in high schools
  6. Inspires students to combine creativity and problem solving with synthetic biology
  7. The exercise can be paused so it fits in classes time schedule
  8. The kit includes materials to make more than 500 Biosensors
  9. The online platform will make teachers and student collaborate across the country
  10. Encourage more students to continue their studies in synthetic biology

The amount of local support from the Danish Ministry of Education and companies such as Novozymes support the idea that projects like ours are needed to help disseminate knowledge about synthetic biology early in people's studies.

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