Human Practice

Education and public engagement

During the development of our project, we carried on several activities to reach general audience and make them part of CryptoGErM!

For that purpose, we have made use of local radio, local newspapers, international scientific papers, conferences, University papers, magazines, and the Dutch national news!

For our educational activities, we were the mentors and advisors of 9 High School students who did lab work for their High School Thesis. Besides that we received over 150 students who came to our laboratory to do BioART! We are proud of contributing to the training of this new generation of scientists.


One of the growing (sub)fields of science is science communication. It is key to effectively communicate intricate researches to the general public. Not only when applying for grants, but also to inform the public on ground breaking findings. Good communication is especially important in the field of synthetic biology, because the idea of altering DNA sounds scary to a lot of people. To better communicate CryptoGErM, we tried to make our project accessible by using animations, as you can find in our tour. But also by approaching newspapers, radio- and television stations and giving talks at open-access science events.

Night of Arts and Sciences

Every year, the heart of the city of Groningen transforms into a festival celebrating knowledge, creativity and fun. We were invited to help out at the Aa-church. We got to introduce people to a fungus-operated massage chair. The goal was to let people experience that bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms are not as scary as they are sometimes portrayed to be. It did not take long until word spread about the free massage, and soon people were lining up! This gave us a chance to talk to people about our own project and answer any questions they had!

Netherlands Biotechnology Conference

In April we had the chance to present the first outline of our project at the Netherlands Biotechnology Conference in Wageningen. Enthusiastically, we designed our first poster, t-shirt and business cards. We met some members of current iGEM teams and even had the chance to listen to the presentation of the Delft 2015 team who won last year’s Grand Prize. During this day we made a lot of contacts, tried to find sponsors and got valuable feedback about our ideas. This feedback influenced our project immensely.

Utrecht Campus Party

At the end of May we have been invited to give a presentation about CryptoGErM during the 4th edition of the European Campus Party. We had the chance to explain our idea to people with very different backgrounds and ages which at the end enthusiastically participated in different workshops given by Luis, Marco and Matthia.

By doing so we have been able to collect lots of feedback from different research domains that helped the growing of the project. Moreover, we also had the opportunity to listen to several other interesting talks that helped us to improve our presentation skills.


Jan van de Meide invited us to their radio studio to talk about our project. Kathinka and Bente went to the studio for their first live-radio performance. The radio show is aimed at a very general public, so we got the challenging task of explaining the project in an understandable manner. A major hurdle here was that we could not use visual support, so we tried to make sure to be as clear as possible. You can hear the result here (in Dutch).

Auction and BBQ

In September we organized an auction to raise money for our project. After giving a presentation of the project itself, the auction started. Every iGEM team member offered some service: lab worker for a day, cake baking, babysitting, lawn mowing, a tour through our lab etc. Researchers of the University of Groningen and friends of our iGEM team members were very eagerly bidding for the offers and thereby helping our project. It was huge success and a lot of fun.

After the auction we had a BBQ together. A local butcher sponsored the meat for it (Thanks to De Groene Weg Slagerij Groningen!). The income of the BBQ also partially funded our project. The evening ended with an exciting tip-stacking competition which peaked in a final between a 2016 iGEMer and an ex-iGEMer.


The university of Groningen publishes its own newspaper, the university paper or UK for short. In order to spread awareness regarding our project and synthetic biology, we approached them to write a piece about us. They were very enthusiastic and curious about our project. To learn more Simone came over to our office to discuss the details of CryptoGErM. She even visited our auction to get a better feeling for the team and witness our presentation. The article can be read here.


Lifeline is a monthly magazine published by study association Idun. This association has members from both the studies Biology and Life Science & Technology. Because of their readers’ background, they were very interested in our project. The magazine is send to Iduns 1700 members and is always very well received. The article in Lifeline will be published at the end of November.


Unifocus is a video magazine that publishes interesting and educational videos concerning the university and its students. We were really excited to have a professional video made. At first we were a little giddy, but soon we got used to the spotlight and continued our work while the interview took place. The video can be viewed on their website, or right here:

New Scientist

On September 15th we were excitedly waiting in front of the iGEM office phone to be interviewed by a New Scientist reporter. The New Scientist is a UK-based weekly English-language international science magazine. Despite minor problems with the phone we are part of this article.


Our project did not go unnoticed by the Dutch national news agency! After the university posted our unifocus video, we sparked the interest of NOS op 3, the department that makes videos and takes care of social media. To get a better understanding of our project, we gave a few telephone interviews. This resulted in a really nice piece and animation, to explain our project to the general public. The article is available here (in Dutch).

Bionieuws (Bionews)

Thanks to the team of Eindhoven, we got the opportunity to advertise our project in the magazine of the Netherlands Institute of Biology. Together with all the Dutch teams we filled one page. Every team explained themselves in one sentence and included a team logo and contact information. (Translation title picture: The Netherlands is fully represented in Boston at the global iGEM competition.)

The Groningen Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology Institute (GBB)

We were invited by Groningen Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology Institute (GBB) to present our project at their 24th Annual Symposium. The Symposium was held at the Biotoop, the former Biological Centre. Our audience consisted of postdocs, PhD and MSc students with a Biomolecular or Biotechnology background. This gave us a chance to practice in front of a big audience and to handle critical questions. All in all, this was a valuable learning experience.


Besides communicating our project to the general and scientific community, we wanted to do something to bring the iGEM teams together. To let people explore the CryptoGErM system, we developed a game to play during the jamboree. The game explanation can be found here. The idea is for the contestants to find our poster and to interact with our team members.

Interviews with Dagblad van het Noorden & OogTV

On Monday October 17th we had an interview with Dagblad van het Noorden (Local newspaper). In addition, we will still get an interview on Friday 21th of October with of OogTV, the local TV channel of Groningen. Both the article and the TV interview are yet to be published.


“Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It’s posing questions and coming up with a method. It’s delving in” - Sally Ride

In our survey we encountered some worrying results. Namely the fact that 26% of the participants did not know what bacteria are. This is something that alarmed us. It became clear that informing people about synthetic biology was the key for making the world ready for CryptoGErM.

The best way to do this, was through education. So, in collaboration with ScienceLinX, we organized a day at the betafaculty. On this day 115 high school students came to visit us at the campus to learn about our project and about synthetic biology. We did not only invite students with an affinity for biology, but all kinds of students. We did this because we strongly believe in the cooperation between fields to make projects stronger and to provide a fresh view on problems.

The students and chaperoning teachers attended a lecture in which they learned the basics of synthetic biology, followed by a lecture about our own project. Herein we stressed the fact that we are a very diverse team and that students with almost every background can contribute to the iGEM competition. The discussions following this lecture did not only prove the interest that the students showed in the project, but were also very helpful to us. These lectures pushed us to explain our project as clearly as possible, while still including enough detail to stay true to the complexity of the project.

In addition to the theoretical lectures, we gave the students some experience in a real lab. Because we only had one hour in the lab, we decided to do some bio-art. This would teach them how to work with an inoculation loop and agar plate and to give them nice visualisation of lab work with bacteria. Dr Jan Kiel kindly provided us with different coloured micro organisms. Because we worked with different strains that had no antibiotic resistance, we taught the students how to work sterile, by using a flame.

Besides these general educational activities, we wanted to go a little more in depth with some of the students. Therefore we invited some high school students to do their practical work for their high-school thesis, and learn some basic cloning techniques. Because we only had a few days, we could not go through the entire process of bio-encryption. But they had some interesting sub questions we could answer. A few students were interested in which organism to use. To investigate this we cloned sfGFP in both Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli. We found that E. coli was harder to work with, because it does not have natural competence. Both E. coli and B. subtilis showed fluorescence, which means that the students succeeded in their first cloning!

sfGFP in Bacillus subtilis & sfGFP in Escherichia coli

In the Netherlands, high school students choose a specialisation when they are half way into their six year program. This can be economical or focused more on technology and health. At the end of their studies they work on an end project for about half a year. Herein they demonstrate the knowledge and skills they acquired over the years. For the more beta oriented students, this includes experimental work.

Student Celine about her experience:

“I worked a week during the summer for my high school thesis at the RuG. One of my questions in my thesis was which bacteria is better for inserting a plasmid. To research my question I worked with two students of the iGEM Team and cloned a plasmid with GFP in both bacteria. We grew B. subtilis overnight and then transformed it with the plasmid. With E. coli we first had to make competent cells and after that we did a heat shock transformation.

My time in Groningen was very interesting. I saw and learned a few new things, where I normally not get in touch with. The students were very nice and answered all of my questions. It was a successful week!”

Students Mayra & Robyn:

Mayra and Robyn are doing their high school thesis on cryptography in bacteria and they also followed a few days in our lab to experience working with bacteria, especially inserting a part in bacteria.

“Thanks to the iGEM Team we got further in our research for our high school thesis. We learned a lot in these three days. It was very nice to work in a lab.”

Students Marco, Jarko & Daniel

Marco, Jarko and Daniel also did their project about cryptography in bacteria. They already discovered that there are several ways in order to leave a message in a bacterium. For example, they have read that you can make a color-coded bacteria, when they come in contact with a substance, such as an antibiotic. By allowing bacteria to change color through a certain substance, you can use the bacteria as a secret ink. They also found that combinations in the DNA itself can give a meaning, such as a letter or number. By then to put this combination in the DNA you get a kind of secret language in the genome, which you can read by mapping the DNA and translate. Marco, Jarko and Daniel came in our lab to discover what it is like to change something in DNA of bacteria. The same as the other students they cloned GFP inside E. coli and B. subtilis.

“The days were a few learn full days, but also fun. The explanations were clear and we were helped good. In this combination our experiment was a success!”

Students Lieke, Anouk & Imke

Lieke, Anouk and Imke are currently busy with their high school thesis about GFP in guppies. Since we, as iGEM Team, are not allowed to work with animals, we invited them to clone GFP in bacteria.

“During our days in the lab of Groningen we learned a lot, we really liked to clone GFP in bacteria and the program was well arranged. The help was good and kindly. We learned a lot of this experience, it also was fun to do.”

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