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UCL iGEM 2016 | BioSynthAge



Our project has evolved from a single idea to a multidimensional project that extends the healthy lifespan through many routes. The influence of human practices has formed an integral part of our project and has greatly changed not only the design of our therapies, but the team’s perception and understanding of the problem. We truly believe that every person we have interacted with has resulted in either changing the way the team thinks about our project, inspired the formation of a new BioBrick or improve the design of our ideas. See our integrated practices page for a detailed overview of how human practices has shaped our whole project.

mNARK lycopene probiotic

We wanted to create novel synthetic biology therapies that can be effectively integrated into society. In order to do so, we wanted to talk to the experts , to fully understand the problem and how our synthetic biology solutions can be optimised. Initially, we spoke to our main project inspiration, Aubrey de Grey (the full skype video can be seen here ). Aubrey mentioned that our lycopene idea was promising if the data we obtained showed that Lycopene can survive in the gut and if our genetically modified bacteria can survive under low pH of the digestive tract. As a result of talking to Aubrey, we designed further characterisation tests for our lycopene BioBrick, where we have stressed our cells through different inducers of oxidative stress.

Consequently, we decided to send our mNARK – Lycopene containing bacteria to Dundee iGEM to test how well our bacteria survive in their stomach simulating device, which can be seen here . We were able to successfully see that our probiotic idea is feasible as it is able to pass through the acidic environment of the stomach to the gut. Click on our lycopene page to find out more about the results of our collaboration. After talking to more researchers such as Filipe , we gained more confidence that there is significant proof of concept that is required for our therapies to be successfully integrated into society.

Superoxide dismutase 3: The evolution of a novel therapy

Julie from the Dementia care home mentioned that she feels like she is being forced to take pills required for her to maintain her quality of life. The negative feeling from the elderly with taking the pills, then inspired the team to think of new ways of delivering our therapies. Hence why we wanted to create an alternative therapy from our lycopene device that would be approved by our end users. We then asked the experts whether we should focus on alternative routes of therapy, such as gene therapy and if this is more effective than a probiotic. As a result, we came to the conclusion of that the overexpression of Superoxide Dismutase 3 would be a good strategy for healthy ageing.

We then fed this back into our interactions with the experts with William Bains who said that this was a good idea and can form an interesting and rapid approach. William Bains helped us improve the safety of our SOD3 idea by, titrating the lycopene system to only express the gene when high levels of oxidative stress are detected. As a result of this interaction, we decided to add the nfkb promotor to our SOD3 biobrick to increase safety of our device. We consider the safety of our devices significantly important, hence why we have spent a lot of time integrating this aspect into our therapies, especially the gene therapy.

Outreach: More than just educating the younger generation

We started outreach with the aim of educating the younger generation about synthetic biology and the importance of healthy ageing. We understood that a lot of the general public do not see ageing as a disease, or yet even as a problem so we wanted to educate them through our interactive workshops. However, we did not expect that we would learn so much from these outreach sessions and that it would shape the execution of our project as much as it did.

We really understand that as ageing is a global problem, we want to incorporate as many perspectives, issues, barriers towards our project as we can in order to fully evaluate the benefits to our therapies. Outreach inspired us to then reach out to as many different people as we could to broaden our network to the wider community and making our project integrated into today’s society.

Public engagement and education

Through talking and interacting with the public, we were able to not only educate them about synthetic biology innovations, but to also learn about what our end users are afraid of with our therapies. Once we listened, and engaged in a 2-way conversation, we then understood that our project can impact nearly everything. From pension schemes to the socio-economic demographic, and that we needed to consider these factors through our project.

With that being said, we also learned that most all of these challenges and long term implications can be worked through with enough consideration, making us comfortable with the notion that our ageing therapies could do a lot of good if it were implemented in the real world.

Public engagement has really developed our ability to communicate our project and ideas to a wide range of audiences and execute our project. We now understand that good communication is important as these therapies will affect them and their lives.