Team:Queens Canada/HP/Silver

Team:Queens Canada

Enrichment Studies Unit

This summer, QGEM hosted three week-long synthetic biology courses for middle school and high school students through the Summer Enrichment Experience at Queen's (SEEQ) program hosted by the Enrichment Studies Unit (ESU). Synthetic biology is an emerging field that students are seldom educated in elementary school, high school, and even postsecondary institutions. We believe that synthetic biology is the future, and therefore educating young people about it is a crucial component to raising public awareness. It is also an excellent way to promote iGEM to high school students on the verge of attending postsecondary institutions, for which they will have gained prior exposure that can potentially influence them to join iGEM.

QGEM had the pleasure of teaching students from grades 6-12 this summer. Although students in grades 6-8 experience a very basic science background by virtue of the curriculum, they were eager to learn from our presentations. We started by introducing our students to biological cells and cellular organelles, and how cells play a role in maintaining optimal function in a living organism. Next, we taught them the basics of DNA and heredity, while also touching on genetic diseases in our class discussion. We would complete the lesson series with an introduction to protein structure and function.

Some concepts that we focused on in our lessons included: the idea that DNA serves as the blueprint of the cell (via transcription and codons), the concept behind proteins functioning as the machinery working inside of cells (including examples such as hemoglobin, digestive enzymes, and DNA repair enzymes), and the pathology of mutations and certain genetic diseases (such as heritable diseases, mutagen-induced diseases, and diseases related to chromosomal nondisjunction). We also introduced students to the basic concepts of synthetic biology (fusing biology with engineering) and organized class discussions on the ethics and societal implications of synbio research.

Our lesson plans were modified from the William and Mary 2015 iGEM team's Synthetic Biology Curriculum. We included many interactive activities (such as making cell models using treats, DNA helices using Twizzlers, and extracting DNA from bananas) to ensure that the learning process is hands-on, engaging, interesting, and drives the important points home. We were fortunate to have run these courses in partnership with Queen's ESU, who conducted the advertising and enrolment process for our synbio course.

Some of the activities our students engaged in include building DNA double-helices using Twizzlers (left) and creating their own eukaryotic cell model using dessert treats (center-left). The main highlight of our 3-day course was extracting DNA from bananas (right).

Overall, the students were lots of fun to teach, and consisted of very bright young individuals and budding scientists who asked very advanced and probing questions for their age. We received great reviews from the students on the course and it was a pleasure to teach students so eager to participate and learn!

See our lesson plans here!

QGEM Synbio Interview Series

This year, Queen's iGEM directed a two-part interview series to suppliment our project focus on novel drug discovery and optimization, touching on overarching questions related to biosynthetic production, drug design, metabolite reprogramming, and much more. We explored these topics through the perspectives of both research and the industry, integrating themes such as innovation, design, commercialization, and future outlook of drug development and biosynthetic engineering. In addition, we welcome future iGEM teams to utilize this interview series to suppliment related projects!

Dr. Michael A. Adams

Dr. Adams is a professor and head of the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen's University. He has had 16 independent patents for various inventions, and has also had experience with bringing a drug to the market. In this interview, we discussed with Dr. Adams about the challenges he faced in the drug development process.

Background: B.ScH Physiology & Pharmacology, University of Western Ontario (1979), Ph.D. Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Western Ontario (1985), Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Baker Medical Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia; Supervisors: Alex Bobik and Paul I. Korner (1985-1988).

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Kersh Theva

Kersh Thevasundaram is Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, studying Molecular Biology and Bioengineering. He is an alumnus of Queen's iGEM and is currently researching the development of biohybrid fuel cells using a minimalistic, nano-scale approach. In our interview with Kersh, we discussed his past synbio influences, new developments in fields such as microfluidics and gene editing, and synbio's future outlook.

Background: B.Sc. Life Sciences, Queen's University (2015), Ph.D. Molecular Biology and Bioengineering (2015-present), University of California, Berkeley.

Public Research Seminar

On September 28th, 2016, QGEM hosted a public seminar to encourage members of the Kingston community to learn more about synthetic biology and its fascinating applications. The seminar included an overview of iGEM's purpose and the 2016 Queen's iGEM research project. A background on nonribosomal peptides was given, as well as an explanation of the fundamental aspects of our indigoidine tagging system and module modification phase of our project.

A vital aspect of the presentation involved discussing the impact of QGEM 2016's technology offer to the current pharmaceutical industry and how drug leads are explored in drug development. There is currently a shortcoming of antibacterial drugs on the market due to the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance and the evolution of new microbial pests in recent years. We discussed the advantages of modifying NRPS gene clusters to create nonribosomal peptides that have antibacterial activity with improved ADME properties and lower toxicity, rather than less accurate chemical synthesis attempts of recreating these compounds. Promoting the future of NRPS systems, we explained how our project would allow for the engineering of these systems for the ability to create new drug products with new properties by re-coding the DNA of the NRPS using synthetic biology tools.

APSC 100: Engineering Practice

APSC 100 is a first year engineering practice course taught at Queen's University. The design module, a twelve week project, offers students an introduction to team-based work. A team is formed of four to five students who are paired with an upper year advisor and a community client. Students are guided through the design process as they work to solve open-ended design challenges which often emphasize prototype development and system modeling, two critical concepts in engineering.

QGEM is continuing our partnership from last year with APSC 100 to offer a biology-related project. While engineering is a key component of the design and modelling aspects of our project, the team has traditionally struggled to breach the gap between the biological sciences and engineering within the university. By incorporating synthetic biology and the considerations of our work into an engineering project, we hope to introduce the students to the possibilities of merging applied science with more traditional forms of research, promoting interest in the biological applications of engineering.

This year (2016-2017), QGEM entrusted APSC 100 students with the task of designing and producing either an incubator, a thermocycler, or a transilluminator in the most efficient way possible, integrating skills from their other courses.