This is our first year on iGEM, this is our first synthetic biology competition, ever. This means that everything we have now, are fruits of our work, are results of our efforts. And to continually collect more fruits, we need to keep feeding the tree and nurturing it.
What does it mean? It means that to keep the flow going, we need to have more people involved, more dedicated and interested people nurturing the tree.
1st Synthetic Biology Week
This year, we watched our group get extensively bigger, growing from 8 people in the Synthetic Biology Club to almost 30. This meant we would also have to pass on the information we gathered to them.
Following the rise of members, we created the 1st Synthetic Biology Week. This event took a whole week, as its name may suggest, and consisted in different modules for each weekday, wraping up all the basic synthetic biology content needed.
These people joining us had their presence necessary, as they would need this knowledge to keep feeding our tree. But this did not mean that we were protecting this knowledge. On the contrary, the event was totally free and was open to everyone who wished to attend, no exceptions. All the modules that developed for the classes, were also avaible in our facebook group.Themes from molecular biology basics to math models and synthetic circuits each had their own dedicated day.
1st Synthetic Biology Week. Source: Personal archive.
We were really glad with the results, since a lot of people started to interact actively with us after this and engage in synthetic biology matters. The classes had about 30 people present every day. It took place between March 28th and April 1st.
We got some feedback from a form we delivered at the end of the week and the results were pretty satisfactory considering it was our first time. The 12 answers we received can be viewed right below, based on these answers we plan to improve for the following years.
1st Synthetic Biology Week. Source: Personal archive.
Some of the assimilated content at the week:
1st Synthetic Biology Week. Source: Personal archive.
Now that we had a growing number of interested people, it would be the ideal time to give it another push and keep exercising the knowledge they soaked in. It would be the time to start our Seminar Cycle.
A sequence of symposiums were defined firstly and then, in the later editions, we would choose the next host at the end of the meeting. They have a wide array of themes and has virtually no restriction to a subject, it just needs to stimulate science and be interesting.
The seminar structure starts with the host making a brief presentation of the theme and to present some information and facts regarding it. Then, the host would throw in a few questions and thoughts, a round table is formed and the host now becomes a kind of moderator. The presented topics are then discussed and some really interesting discussions came out of these meetings.
We now hold about two symposiums a month, and once again, everyone who is interested is welcome to join us, we welcome them with arms wide open.
Even tough these meetings did not have a really high number of attendees, about 10 to 15 each meeting, it is really interesting to observe that there are the same loyal members present, but, depending on the theme, really different people would show up and join us, it really has an integrating potential. A few examples are the Women in Science, Bioeconomics and Synthetic Biology in Sci-fi themes.
Symposium divulgation posters. Source: Personal archive.
These meetings are really fun and research inducing. Our plan is to keep them going indefinitely.
Region influence in iGEM
When there is a team participating of iGEM, which comes from a not so modern country and less rich nations, it is already implied that those teams have probably had a few more difficulties.
Some aspects are country related, like Brazil's customs speed problem, which kept our kit plates stuck in there for a couple months.
And there are cultural and economic problems. Once again, giving personal examples: our team needed to make an analysis of a sample for enzyme detection. When asked, our PI said that if we would pay for that, which is already expensive, maybe we could get the analysis done for next year and that he was actually in the line for that and had been waiting for months. If we were in a more structured country and university, he we would probably be able to ask the university and they would get it done in the same week, for free.
With contextual differences in mind, we did some analysis about iGEM teams expenditures and time with data the teams provided themselves.
Number of people in the team. Source:Personal archive.
This graph shows that almost 80% of our sample has 10 or more members in their team. From those 80%, more than half will actually also attend the event with 10 or more members. These numbers actually did not reflect what we were first expecting. Our first thought was that we would probably get 10+ responses generally from USA and Europe teams, whilst Latin America and Asia teams would attend with less people. But the 10+ teams were actually pretty diversified, having no actual pattern and some teams from Europe for example would attend in smaller numbers.
Number of people attending the jamboree. Source:Personal archive.
Another interesting data is the average expenditure. We came to the conclusion that an iGEM team has an average expenditure, excluding competition fees and accommodation is about $9100 dollars. If included the sign up fee ($5000), an average of 9 people per team for the jamboree ($695) and accommodation ($250), the average expenditure goes up to $22600 dollars.
Even tough this numbers are not actually extremely high, when considering the scientific value, it is still a lot of money, specially when we compare it among the countries. While the average expenditure represents about 19,5 minimum salaries in the US and 14 minimum salaries in Germany, this same number is worth almost 82 brazilian minimum salaries and 115 salaries from Costa Rica.
Our university already has a consolidated platform available for online courses. A team was assembled to work on a synthetic biology course online, using this platform. This same platform already has tons of content in a lot of subjects. This means the project is directly related to the university and has an official aspect to it, providing a scholarship to the students in charge and having necessary guidelines, datelines and feedback reports.
The fellows have to elaborate didactic material and relevant activities related to synthetic biology, and then, put it together in the form of videos, that are then available online for the people who signed up for the course.
The activities follow a simple guided route: firstly data and information about the current courses in the platform are gathered and analyzed. Then a bibliographic revision about the themes which are addressed by the classes and synthetic biology itself is organized.The themes are then separated in a logical sequence and the modules are determined. The video lessons are recorded and edited by the workforce at a maximum of 15 minutes of length, with the exception of a justified cause for a longer video. All videos are accompanied by written didactic material and/or questions and activities. The videos and material are then uploaded and become accessible online.
It is a fair point to note that all the content must be produced with professional quality and have a university standard of quality before they can be accepted.
At the end of the course, those who finish it receive a certificate in basic synthetic biology. Our final goal with this action is to stimulate interest in synthetic biology and incentive research or any other related activity both in our campus and in the whole country, helping Brazil to achieve a higher scientific status. It is available countrywide.
Middle school teaching
Following the course example, we have the biotechnology in schools project which is also directly and officially inserted into the university structure. This one is aimed at the middle school tough. The involved fellows in this project must elaborate didactic material involving cytology, basic molecular biology and biotechnology. They also prepare the theoretical and practical lectures, which will be presented in public schools from the Lorena region. These lectures also include dynamics, games and experiments.
The structured pattern for this project starts with a bibliographic revision about the legal aspects of teaching biotechnologic material in public schools and about different teaching approaches that stimulate and spikes out the students' interest. Paradidactic material is then developed using updated material, approaching the already mentioned biology and biotechnology related subjects. Practical activities aimed at bringing the students closer to the subject and offering a more dynamic learning method are then assembled. Finally, all these points come together when the fellows put them into action, actively going and applying distributing the knowledge to public middle schools in the Lorena region.
Our goal with this project is to include modern biotechnology and biochemistry in the public teaching network. We also intend to stimulate the young minds to think, grow and possibly follow the so much interesting path of biotechnology.
These contents also represent the university and all our work will certainly be made and only released upon reaching the highest standards of quality and approval.
Discussions and press releases
Being the first team in our region to make a project or even work with synthetic biology, we firstly expected a resistance to our ideas and achievements. But fortunately, we actually received a really warm reception and opportunities to talk about our work and synthetic biology
When we first approached the professors looking for support, most of them haven't even heard about synthetic biology. After our marketing and project backlash, all the professors would know recognize us, and during their lectures they would also mention us when talking about DNA and biotechnology advancements. With this, they started introducing us to companies and organizations that might help us.
From this point, several magazines and websites approached us to ask about synthetic biology and our project. This aspect not only helped us achieve our goals, but really disseminated that synthetic biology is a real possibility, and it is here, it's our future.
We will now link a few examples, which both helped us and helped the science with which we work alongside with:
Inova.FM Radio . They gave us a really cool space to talk about synthetic biology for a few hours.
University journal gave a really good push and a better understanding of what tools we meant to use exactly.
BiodieselBR Magazine did an awesome article about our team, our goals and what good the iGEM competition would bring to our university.
Fapesp Magazine produced an article about all of Brazil's teams expectations and work to attend this year's competition.
Our crowdfunding proved to be pretty successful and not only was a vital part of our organization and one of our main sources of funding, but it had an amazing reach in the social media, since a great deal of people were actively helping us to get to our final point. The crowdfunding page also shows our whole project and a nice explanation video.