Introduction to Synthetic Biology
The 2016 Macquarie iGEM team had the incredible opportunity to be a part of the MQ ‘taster day’ for senior high school students who were considering a science degree. We wanted to give them a taste of university science and tell them all about synthetic biology.
The day consisted of two parts: An introduction lecture on synthetic biology and a lab class exploring DNA and scientific lab protocols. The lecture was presented by four members of the 2016 iGEM team, each enthusiastically selling the wonders of synthetic biology and its limitless potential. The lab class was a chance for the high school students to get a taste of university science and have the opportunity to talk to science students nearing the end of their degrees to get opinions and advice on their own future studies.
The lab component consisted of a rotation between four activities. These included:
- Bacterial artwork – plating colourful bacteria on agar plates to demonstrate how we make cultures in the lab.
- Pipetting practice – students got the opportunity to use micropipettes (which they don’t have access to in high school) and even used them to load a gel.
- DNA investigation and construction – using K’NEX to build DNA models to learn the structure and function of DNA and competed against one another in an internet quiz on DNA.
- Chlorophyll investigation – students crushed spinach leaves and performed chlorophyll chromatography to investigate the different components. They also viewed chlorophyll under a UV lamp and discussed its fluorescence
Students were surveyed after their experiences with 100% of students who attended the lecture rating it a 4 or 5 out of 5, and 89% of students rated the lab class as a 4 or 5 out of 5 for being enjoyable and informative. They also had some interesting suggestions for applications of synthetic biology, including; solving climate change by creating renewable energy, creating crops to grow in desert conditions, fixing cells damaged in nerve injuries, and increasing the nutrition of food to help poorer communities. The students really engaged with all the activities we had on over the day and had a lot of questions about synthetic biology! We had the chance to explain to them a lot of what we have learnt from participating in iGEM and were very impressed by some of their suggested applications!