Team:Edinburgh UG/Engagement



Public Engagement

Over the course of the summer we were lucky enough to interact with and share our project with people in our community.


In July we attended the SynBioBeta Activate conference at the University of Edinburgh King’s Buildings. Highlights were hearing Emily Leproust from Twist Bioscience, Axel Trefzer from ThermoFisher and Kevin Munnelly from Gen9 do a panel discussion on DNA data storage. It was encouraging to hear the leaders in DNA synthesis speak about how DNA is the future of data storage.

During breaks and the networking lunch we walked around and talked to people about our project. Naturally, many attendees were familiar with iGEM and were quire excited to hear about our project. We printed out flyers before the day to hand out so people could find out more about our project. Although engagement is often seen to be an opportunity to share synthetic biology with non-experts, we really enjoyed engaging with professionals in the synthetic biology community and getting their feedback!

National Library of Scotland: Learning at Work Week

As part of our collaboration with the National Library of Scotland, we were invited to give a workshop during their “Learning at Work Week”. We put together a presentation including the background to our project, the basics of the biology and what we had achieved over the course of the summer.

The workshop also included an interactive activity that demonstrated the data-DNA encoding and decoding process. The audience was split up into small groups of 3, each group also included a member of our team. The groups had a basket of DNA bases printed on paper – synthetic nucleotides, if you will – that they had to put together and encode to the words in a given sentence. This demonstrated how depending on the length of a DNA fragment, the number of possible encoding changes. This process mirrored ours at the start of the summer when we were determining the content of a BabbleBrick.

After ‘assembling’ their new BabbleBricks together, another group had to decode this sentence. The participants said that doing the interactive activity helped engage them and as non-experts at biology they felt it made our project clearer to them.

Over the course of our Fresher’s Week and first week of Lectures we gave talks to various student groups. The first was a talk to new Biological Sciences first years as part of their welcome talk. This was great as we were able to introduce iGEM to a cohort of new students and explain to them what we had been working on over the summer.

We also gave presented to two student societies: Synthetic Biology Society and Edinburgh University Young Scientific Researchers Association. This was great as we were able to share BabblED with those interested in synthetic biology and scientific researchers from disciplines ranging from biology to computer science to physics to psychology. It was great to hear everyone’s feedback and get them excited about what were doing!

Doors Open Day

Every year, Edinburgh hosts its Doors Open Day: a day in which many paid attractions in the city open their doors to the public for free. The University of Edinburgh King’s Buildings opened their doors to the community and invited anyone that was interested in the research happening at the University to come and learn more.

Here, we had a stall set up with our poster, a demonstration of our encode/decode software and an interactive game. This was a fantastic opportunity for public engagement as we interacted with a wide audience. Some people to vist our stall were adults or young students looking to study at the university; this was a great time to present our poster to them and let them know about the potential opportunities for research as an undergraduate. Others were children that approached our stall to play with our blocks (pictured). This was good fun because we were often able to engage the children with the interactive activity while chatting to the parents in more detail about our project.

Public Debate with Dundee iGEM

In October, we hosted a public debate in collaboration with the Dundee iGEM team and the Dundee and Edinburgh University Debate Unions. The motion of the debate was “This House Would Ban the Development of GMO Food and Products”. As synthetic biologists and scientists we obviously already have our own opinions on this topic, however, it was very engaging to listen to the debate team and their arguments. Each side was composed of a mixture of Edinburgh and Dundee debating students and within this, there was a variety of academic backgrounds.

The arguments they made really made us think about the implications of GM crops. For example, some good points were made about the economic effects GM crops have on developing countries and how they may actually prevent developing countries from economic and industrial revolutions. In the end, the opposing side (in favour of GM development) won the debate.

Media Coverage

We were very lucky this summer to receive significant media coverage of our project. At the start of the summer we were approached by PLoS SynBio to write a blog post for them as part of their iGEM series. This was great as initial exposure as we got to share our project with the far and wide synthetic biology community as well as other iGEM teams.

Read the PLoS SynBio post here:

As a result of our collaboration with the National Library of Scotland, we were included in a press release from the Library. These publications were great in getting our project exposed to the local Edinburgh community.

Read the initial press release here:

A few weeks later, we were absolutely buzzing when Bulgarian National News contacted us to do a video interview! We loved sharing our ideas on TV as it made us consider our science communication skills; a very useful skill we used throughout the duration of the summer!

The benefits of having an international team became more clear after a Greek news site picked up on our story:

As a result of our collaboration with the National Library of Scotland, we were included in a press release from the Library. These publications were great in getting our project exposed to the local Edinburgh community.Read the initial press release here:

The press release was also published on The Scotsman and STV News!

The press release was also published on The Scotsman and STV News!

The press release was noticed by The Times, and following a phone interview, an article was published online and in print! Read here:

Finally, we were asked to have an interview with New Scientist for their piece on DNA data storage. We were featured alongside the Groningen iGEM Team:

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