Public Engagement

The Michigan Synthetic Biology Team has worked diligently to engage in initiatives to help foster a more positive image of synthetic biology within the public sphere by developing a series of successful interactive models and projects.While our “wet lab” work is critical to the advancement of our design, our social engagement is critical to its practicality.

Bench-to-Bedside Guide

Human practices in iGEM is about reaching out to the general public and enhancing communication within the science community to allow for incredible projects to transcend the journal article and become a reality that could change or help the world. Through this guideline, we focus on providing some of the basic information needed for the concrete launch of a synthetic biology application. In order to accomplish this goal, we have created a Bench-to-Bedside Guide. To make the general guide useful, we distributed it to each of the iGEM teams in the diagnostics track that provided contact information. As a supplement to the general guideline, we also created a specific guide for our diagnostic test, which uses aptamers and NASBA to detect tuberculosis biomarkers.

Click here to visit the Bench-to-Bedside Guide page!

Also, click here to access the general Bench-to-Bedside Guide.

Fact Check Website

Synthetic biology’s public image is full of myths and worries. Part of this stems from the field’s youth and complexity. Our team hopes to clear up some of the egregious myths of the field by designing and curating a Q&A-style site where they are addressed. Currently, the site is composed of questions that we’ve personally heard or found across the internet. We have plans to open the site to user-submitted questions. The website appears under searches for these common questions and provides fact-based answers.

To check out the Fact-Check Website, click here.

Michigan Science Center

We were invited to participate in the Building with Biology event at the Michigan Science Center in Detroit, Michigan. This event took place on August 6th, 2016 and is part of a larger national initiative across museums in the country through the National Science Foundation, the NISE Network and the Science Museum of Boston. Its purpose is to provide a space of conversation about synthetic biology between scientists and the general public, ranging from kids to adults, in order to eliminate the “pipeline of doom” polarized thought regarding this topic. Examples of the activities done included a simple DNA isolation, a virus making activity and an activity where people considered the uses of synthetic biology regarding food. There was also an activity where people considered in what kind of research they would invest in, among many others. These interactive activities are designed to educate on the technologies used in synthetic biology in a simple way. Afterwards, a few members of our team gave a presentation on iGem, our project, and a successful example of the everyday use of synthetic biology in many peoples' lives: the synthesis of human insulin. We were happy to participate in such an edifying event and were able to answer many people’s questions and concerns while having fun.

Ann Arbor Health Hacks

We competed and won the health hackathon competition organized by Ann Arbor Health Hacks. The event was held from June 14-16, 2016. Hackathons like these bring people with diverse backgrounds together to solve current health problems. We took our basic Aptapaper design and, through the advice of the medical experts present as well as other hackathon participants, we designed a version that could diagnose heart disease. The hackathon was where we came up with the idea to use proximity dependent ligation instead of a toehold switch for our design. As part of the hackathon, we interacted with the other 200 or so participants from all different health related fields, teaching them about synthetic biology as they taught us about aspects of their particular fields that were relevant to our project.

Girls in Science and Engineering (GISE)

In mid-June, the team helped out with the University of Michigan's GISE summer camp. We held two sessions where we showed middle-school girls how to extract DNA from strawberries and their own spit--an integral technique in synthetic biology! Aside from the activities, we explained the basics of genetics and synthetic biology. Despite the numerous spills and messes, the girls were intrigued with how the spidery liquid (full of their own DNA) contained in the microcentrifuge tube held all the instructions for their bodies! Hopefully, they'll be the next generation of Michigan Synthetic Biologists!

Biotechnology Camp

We partnered with miRcore, a non profit organization advocate for high school students education in bioscience in the midwest to organize a biotechnology camp that we held from August 1st - 5th, 2016. Students were freshman, sophomores and juniors interested in learning more about biotechnology. We trained them on proper use of the lab and safety. Each student worked on cloning a GFP fragment into a high copy plasmid (pGLO). During the first day students isolated the bacterial DNA that had GFP with a miniprep, amplified the plasmid with PCR and verified it was the correct size running it on an agarose analytical gel. During the second day they purified their PCR product using a kit, then digested and ligated with a linearized pGLO vector. On the third day of the camp students transformed their ligations into DH5a competent cells. These techniques sparked student’s interest in synthetic biology, since none of them does this type of work in their biology lab classes.