Our iGEM group is not only focused on working in the laboratory, we also want to share the amazing synthetic biology experience with others - teach people about possibilities connected with this field and encourage them to expand the boundaries of their own mind. In the course of our project, we had the pleasure to spread synthetic biology among high school students who are the most valuable future source of innovation - who knows, maybe one day they will form another great iGEM team and come up with life-saving ideas.
We have organized several workshops combined with laboratory classes. Our team members explained lab safety rules and the possible ways to assemble genetic constructs. We also described stages of recombinant protein production in Escherichia coli. During the workshops participants worked with our iGEM constructs, including promoters induced by sugars and learned basic molecular techniques used in laboratories. The participants learned how to use automatic pipettes and then extracted the fluorescent proteins (GFP or RFP) from E. coli. They performed lysis of bacteria cells based on either an enzymatic method or a chemical method. Students were also able to perform electrophoresis in agarose gel, which is used in molecular biology to separate DNA fragments. The results of electrophoresis and protein extraction were visualized under UV light in our laboratory.
Each practical class ended with a quiz about synthetic biology. Combining fun with learning is the best way to spread knowledge about molecular biology and learn safety rules of working in a laboratory. We have to also admit that working with such fantastic young people motivates and gives us a lot of energy!
On 25th September 2015 there was The European Researchers' Night. On that day events connected with discovering science took place in 280 cities across Europe and beyond. One of those cities was Poznań and Adam Mickiewicz University. In our laboratory we hosted 5 groups, 16 students each. The first group started at 4 p.m. and the last one finished at 11 p.m. We hosted both organized as well as young people keen on science or even parents with teenagers.
In January 2016 we hosted a group of 18 ambitious students from a biology and chemistry-focused high school class. They came to us from Wronki that is 57km away from Poznań! Our iGEM members made an introduction not only to lab safety rules but also to genetic engineering and described the Polymerase Chain Reaction. However, we know that the best way to learn something is to do it by yourself. Each student performed their first PCR and amplified different parts of our iGEM genetic constructs such as promoters, protein-coding sequences. In the meantime students prepared agarose gel and performed protein extraction. They could choose which fluorescent protein they want to extract: RFP or GFP. Both the extraction and the PCR were a great success!
The Night of Biologists is an event organized every year in January at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. It is an opportunity to spread biological knowledge among children, teenagers and adults. We decided to organize four laboratory workshops for high school students. Registration for our classes was possible via Internet. After a few hours there weren’t any places left. This time we hosted a lot of students from Poznań’s high schools. It was a pleasure to work with students who were very motivated and active.
After The Night of Biologists we received an e-mail from a few students from one of Poznań’s High Schools. They attended the final year of a biology-chemistry class and they were keen on molecular biology. Their friend had taken part in our laboratories and they asked if it is possible to organize a meeting for them too. They came to us on 17th February 2016. We showed them our laboratory and explained the lab safety rules. We also told them about synthetic biology and described our iGEM project. They prepared 1,5% agarose gel and performed the electrophoresis in it. They could observe migration differences between linear and circular plasmids. Furthermore, we described all stages of recombinant protein production and then they also performed protein extraction from E.coli.
On 20th April 2016 there was the Poznań’s Festival of Science and Art. The aim of that event is to popularize and spread the science and art. We organized classes for four organized groups from Turek, Białogard, Zbąszyń and Międzyrzecze.
The biology teacher from Turek’s High School was impressed with our workshops during Poznań’s Festival of Science and Art. She asked if there is a possibility to organize the same workshops for other students interested in molecular biology. As a result workshops for three 16-people groups took place at our university on 17th June 2016. The results of extraction and gel electrophoresis confirmed that the students have good abilities to work in laboratory.
In March (18-19.03.2016) we had a pleasure to participate in scientific conference “Biological problems of the modern world” organized by Student Scientific Circle of Naturalists (Koło Naukowe Przyrodników, KNP) at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. This meeting aimed to celebrate 95th anniversary of the KNP Science Circle and to gather students- members of science clubs from other Polish Universities, in order to share work, exchgange ideas and start the collaborations. There was an anniversary cake, speeches of former Presidents and members of the KNP and the motivational talk from the Dean of our faculty. At the conference, our group presented our iGEM work in details during oral presentation, which was given by Julia Zielińska with Daria Niewiadomska, and during poster session, where we presented two posters. One poster was prepared by Daria Niewiadomska, it explained in details our expression system with promoters induced by sugars. She won 1st place in the Best Poster Contest. Marcin Osuch was the author of the second poster, at which he indicated practical use of our expression system. Marcin presented the production of miraculin protein in E.coli cells and won 2nd place in the poster contest. We’re glad to say that the conference was a big success for our iGEM group!
EMBO YOUNG SCIENTISTS FORUM
We intend to spread the word about our iGEM project not only among students and other iGEM groups, but also among scientists connected with molecular biology in general. That's why we took part in EMBO Young Scientists’ Forum in Lisbon (01-02.09.16), where we could receive feedback from scientists representing different biological background. We have presented there two posters: “Building sugar induced, multi-promoter expression system for Escherichia coli.” and “Xylose-induced promoters for recombinant protein expression in E.coli.”. We’ve received lots of advice and suggestions and won second award for the best poster (the poster about xylose-induced promoters).
As a part of the XIXth Poznan Festival of Science and Art and the Night of Biologists, we have organized workshops entitled “Not all that glitters is gold – on the fluorescent proteins”. We had prepared activities for teenagers above 16 years old. The program of the workshops was divided in two parts – a theoretical part where teenagers listened to a presentation about synthetic biology and, of course, safety (how to work in the lab and not to hurt yourself). In the next part we focused on extraction of GFP (or RFP) from E.coli and agarose gel electrophoresis. In the end we asked participants to fill in a questionnaire we had designed. (QUESTIONNAIRE). We were interested in the opinion of the young people about socially important and rough topic – GMO. Are they accepting it? Can we genetically modify living organisms? Did they hear before about synthetic biology?
All the respondents were from 15 to 25 years old. 73% were female and 27% were male. All of them were high school students from Turek (41%), Białogard (17%), Zbąszyń (17%) and Międzyrzecz (24%). Most of them considered themselves to be “scientific minds” and only 9% identified as ”humanistics minds”.
All of them attended a high school program with extended biology and chemistry curriculum. 60% of students viewed themselves as extroverts, 36% as introverts and 4% of teenagers had no opinion. One half preferred to work in groups (47%) and second half would rather work individually (53%).
We have also asked the teenagers to name a famous scientist of their choice. First place went to Maria Skłodowska-Curie (40%), the second place was taken by Albert Einstein (29%), what was not very surprising – the former was a double Nobel prize winner and the latter is probably the most known scientist of all time all over the world. Among the less frequently mentioned scholars, there were Charles Darwin (7%), Stephen Hawking (6%), Gregor Mendel, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Copernicus and Nikola Tesla. A very famous Polish cardiologist, very important for the Polish medicine - Zbigniew Religa, who died few years ago, was also mentioned. We were happy to see that some teenagers remember him. One of the teenagers wrote about his teacher, what must be a real appreciation of his work! Even a poetess Wisława Szymborska has been recognized as a scientist. Maybe as a researcher of feelings?
The most interesting field of biology in students’ opinion is genetics (27%), then animal physiology (17%) and biotechnology (15%). Next places went to zoology (11%), molecular biology (7%) and new generation drugs (7%).
Majority (93%) knows what the GMO abbreviation stands for. Half of them (54%) declared to accept genetic modification, 39% had no opinion and only 7% disagreed.
Asked for using GM animals in study of human disease pathogenesis most of them (74%) agreed, 17% had no opinion and 9% disagreed. The results were similar for the question about using drugs produced with GMOs – 70% agreed, 17% had no opinion and 13% disagreed.
We have also requested to write down the pros and cons of GMO. Many of them were noted more than once by different respondents. Among the advantages, teenagers mentioned higher biodiversity, higher resistance to biotic and abiotic stress, higher efficiency, bigger and faster yields, new species or variants with changed properties, longer crop freshness, lower concentrations of pesticides needed. On the other hand, threats that students see included superweeds, threats to biodiversity, human diseases, allergies, uncontrolled expansion, genetic mutations and diseases, tumors, death of natural species and unknown reactions to foreign DNA.
Answering a question about gene therapy slightly suggesting advantages of this technique, 72% respondents would choose this kind of therapy, 21% would prefer to wait for new, more efficient drugs and 7% had no opinion. Almost half of the respondents (46%) thought that they know what synthetic biology is dealing with but only 55% of those were able to give definition of this field.
So, it is time for some conclusions. It is nice that young people know not only a world-known scientist but also a Polish one. The most popular biology fields are genetic, animal physiology and biotechnology. Maybe because they are famous, sound fancy, they are constantly developing and there is a lots of things to discover or to create? Most of high school students know what GMO means and what the abbreviation stands for. Many of them have no opinion on using GMOs, possibly because of incomplete knowledge or contradictory information from different sources – school, politicians, internet, television. When we have given some positive examples of using GMO like drugs or studying human diseases agreement increased. However, almost a quarter of respondents still can’t explicitly tell their opinion. High school students don’t really know synthetic biology and most of them met this field for the first time during our workshops, probably because of the high specificity of the field and the fact that high school curriculum doesn’t contain this topic. We are glad that we could expand the knowledge of young people in some of the important and socially turbulent topics.