“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!
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.”