Team:UNSW Australia/Engagement

Synthetic Biology Symposium: Perspectives and Progress

The UNSW iGEM team held a Synthetic Biology Symposium at the conclusion of our Human Practices, in a rare opportunity to bring together professionals in scientific research, biolegalities, and social theory. The symposium was in the form of a panel discussion, open to the public, in order to allow for open discussion and engaging debate.

The evening was extremely successful with those in attendance coming from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds to learn about the potential of synthetic biology, not only for scientific advancement but its effects on social and legal structures. The combination of panellist enabled a critical and interesting debate, where synthetic biology was examined from a variety of unique perspectives. Individuals across science, commerce, arts and law knowledge bases engaged with the panellists, to gain a greater understand of synthetic biology as a whole.

Take a look below!


As part of Ku-Ring-Gai rotary’s youth education initiative, a series of talks about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) were held at Gordon library. We were fortunate enough to be invited to present a talk about synthetic biology and our project. A huge thanks to Matt from the 2015 Sydney University iGEM team for arranging this opportunity! The talks were organised for high school students with the main focus to enlighten them to the possibilities in a STEM career. Members of the 2015 and 2016 USYD iGEM teams and members of the 2015 UNSW iGEM team also joined us at this event, which prompted the start of our collaborations with them.

UNSW IGEM @ B.Inspiring

As a part of our outreach efforts we were able to secure a one-hour workshop opportunity with the organization B. Inspiring Inc. to present and educate their audience about this growing field of science, synthetic biology. B. Inspiring runs an annual three-day conference addressing high school students between years 10 to 12 who aspire to work in the field of STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics). Throughout the three days, students are required to develop a pitch solution to one of the UN sustainable goals. They are also given workshops and presentations by guest speakers from leading companies in STEM, which help them develop their pitch and also inspires them with the merits of a career in STEM.

As representatives of the iGEM competition as well as the synthetic biology community, the goals of our presentation were to interest high school students and allow them to appreciate the world of synthetic biology.

Due to the audience’s diverse backgrounds in STEM, we started by explaining the basic and most fundamental concept of biology: the central dogma. From this we introduced the analogy that synthetic biology is very similar to computing, where the ‘coding language’ of ATGC, and Bio Bricks made out of DNA represent the instructions. With these fundamentals laid down, we explained the different types of Bio Bricks focusing on promoters and open reading frames.

We then provided them with an activity (built upon that of last year’s team), which was to construct a bio-synthetic organism by using bio bricks. We applied this towards the conference’s theme, UN sustainable goals, and told them to create an organism which would help achieve their designated UN goal.

After this activity session, we then discussed the ethical issues that must be addressed in any synthetic biology project. This ranged from concerns in biosafety (which included factors such as environmental damage), sociology (which dealt with cultural and social attitudes) and finally economic factors (such as the matter of patenting). With this in mind we allowed the students to look back on their newly created organism and consider the possible ethical impacts their project may need to take into account.

The audience of high school students at first approached this activity with a lot of questions, as the concept of a genetic circuit was very new and bizarre to them. However, with the one to one guidance from our presenters, their creativity proved to be limitless as they designed some very novel organisms. With the use of a feedback form, from this presentation we were able to gather the general perception of synthetic biology from the students. It had seemed that they were very intrigued by the ability to manipulate life however due to the sophisticated nature of biology, it was hard for them to grasp the whole picture through our ‘basics of synthetic biology’ presentation.

UNSW IGEM @ Aspire

At the end of June we took part in Aspire’s conference for high school children from rural and disadvantaged areas. This conference brings year 10 students from these areas together at UNSW to introduce them to university life in a welcoming and friendly environment in an effort to make university less daunting. Through this the students would hopefully become aware of the range of options available to them after they leave school, and what pathways there are into university. Students prior to the conference chose a stream that they thought most interested them (Law, Business, Medicine, etc.); we were privileged to be included, along with this year’s BioMod team, in the Medicine stream.

We gave a short presentation giving an overview of our project, simple introduction to Synthetic Biology, and then a basic explanation of how promoters and genes worked together to produce different proteins. We then gave the students some cut-outs and balloons to ‘manufacture’ their own proteins which they packaged into the balloon, a substitute for an outer membrane vesicle (OMV). Students then presented their creations to the class; there were some very creative ideas, including OMVs which created glow in the dark zombies or broke down methane.

We left the conference with a sense of achievement, having felt we connected well with the students and engaged them in the idea of Synthetic biology. The feedback we recently received happily reflected this, and we hope the students enjoyed the other days of the conference as much as they appeared to enjoy ours.