Human Practices

Bioengineering Summer Camp

During the summer, the 2016 WLC iGEM held a week-long bioengineering summer camp for high school students. It is important to educate the younger generations and spark their interests in the world of bioengineering. Throughout the week, the students learned various concepts on bioengineering, and they also spent quality time in the lab completing hands-on procedures.


The first day of our summer camp! We began the day with a devotion by Jack and then a discussion on Science and Christianity. We are a small, private, Christian institution, and as such feel that we have a unique opportunity to talk about synthetic biology and bioengineering with those who may at first think that it is not Science and Religion, but Science versus Religion. Mr. Nickels, who has a background in Christian education was able to share a unique perspective of how we, as scientists, can still be both strong in faith and in science. This was the perfect way to set the tone for the rest of our summer camp as we deal with not only basic biology, but also some controversial topics.

We then dove headfirst into science, first with the Central Dogma of Biology prepared by Dr. Werner. This was no ordinary lecture because there was candy. Students were able to learn about the structure of DNA and how it becomes RNA with licorice and marshmallows. Next, we used our Oreo “tRNA’s” to transform RNA into amino acids, coding for proteins. It was a great and tasty time. After lunch we headed into the lab. We gloved up and Harrison, Jack, and Anna taught the campers how to pipette and put those new skills to use by making a liquid culture and mini prep. Students were able to culture their own bacteria and learned the important conditions necessary for doing so. We then took bacteria and isolated their DNA by performing a “mini prep”. At the end of the day, we introduced the campers to the group project that they would be completing. We had them look on the team wikis from the iGEM website and pick a project that interested them. Then they needed to present a lecture and PowerPoint from that specific team’s project. They needed to include both the lab and human practices portions. This project was a chance for them to see what iGEM was all about and hopefully get them more interested in joining an iGEM team when they get to college.


Today was a very exciting and enjoyable day for the campers! We began with some review from the day before with a fun jeopardy game. Then it was off to the Milwaukee School of Engineering Biomolecular Modeling lab. Gina first shared the principles of water with magnetic models so the students could understand the difference between hydrogen, ionic, and covalent bonding. We then progressed to building a peptide bond and understanding what composed the backbone. Before we knew it, we built a long polypeptide chain. Once we understood the primary structure, we worked on forming the correct side chain interactions: hydrophobic and hydrophilic. We were then able to see the large 3-D printers that they use to make models. The small scale science that we are performing in the lab this week really came to life. Back at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Dr. Werner walked us through the basics of genetic engineering before we went into the lab once again. It was the student’s turn to make bacteria glow red, and we used the plasmids they had isolated on Monday in the mini prep to do so. Lastly, towards the end of the day, the students went to work on their group projects, preparing to present on and share past iGEM projects with each other.


We were halfway through with our summer camp and we were all enjoying ourselves. Once again, we began the day with a devotion by Jack and another review game to keep the information fresh in our heads. Jordyn then discussed viruses and phages to our students. Dr. Henkel took over for the rest of the day and began with the importance of medical microbes. The students really seemed intrigued by this topic. In the lab, Dr. Henkel led the students through plating and culturing of microorganisms from an external source point, specifically, raw eggs, chicken, and beef. Dr. Henkel had the students plate the prepared samples on selective plates in order to incorporate bacterial identification into the lab and introduce the concept of gram negativity and gram positivity among other differences used in bacterial identification. The students finished out the day with a snack and spent some time polishing up their presentations.


We made it to day four of the camp and the students seemed as engrossed as they did on day one! We started the day with a devotion and light snack, progressing quickly into what turned out to be one of the campers favorite lectures; Biological safety and Warfare with Dr. Henkel. Dr. Henkel proceeded to enthrall the students with an immersive discussion of bio-weaponry, and the history of bio-warfare. Jack then presented on antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, integrating a number of concepts from earlier in the week, providing ways to approach and prevent antibiotic resistance as it applies to daily life. In lab, after lunch, Harrison led the students through an integrated lab where the students performed PCR, Gel Electrophoresis, and a Restriction Digest. The day wrapped up with the students putting the final touches on their presentations for Friday morning.


Friday began with the last devotion of the week and quickly moved into the students presentations on past iGEM projects. The presentations went exceptionally well and although initially intimidated by the prospect of presenting for the class, the students excelled in their explanations of complicated genetic concepts and projects. After the student presentations, Dr. Balza presented on Coral biology and Morphology, helping further incorporate this year’s project into the camp along with touring the schools coral reproduction systems and marine life support equipment. The last lab of the week, the students spent time examining living coral samples, invertebrates, and bacteria, among other microorganisms under various microscopes. The camp finished off with a fun jeopardy style bioengineering game that the students seemed to enjoy immensely. Overall, the post-camp surveys indicated that the students greatly enjoyed the camp, learned a lot, and would love to return for an advanced, or altered summer camp in future years!

Camp Surveys

We also conducted surveys with our bioengineering summer camp students to gauge the amount of information they had absorbed throughout the week-long camp. The following graphs are the result of the surveys which allow for analysis on how successful our camp was for our students. The students were asked to agree or disagree with the statements on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Question 1

The pre-camp and post-camp responses to the statement “GMOs are inherently dangerous to Human Health” indicate an initial lack of knowledge on this topic due to the large volume (40%) of “I don’t know” responses. After completion of the camp, the students showed a strong opinion on the statement presented, with all students indicating that they believed Genetically Modified Organisms were not inherently dangerous to human health. These results aid in demonstrating that our educational efforts on the dangers (or lack thereof) of GMOs were succesful.

Question 2

The responses to this survey statement showed an initial preference towards disagreeing with the statement that “Genetic Engineering is Unethical” with some students indicating a lack of opinion on the topic due to the 20% of “I don’t Know” responses.

After the camp completed, there were no responses indicating a lack of opinion, with all students showing disagreement with the question, providing confidence in the education provided throughout the week.

Question 3

Before commencement of the camp, the students showed a general lack of knowledge and disagreement with the topic of familiarity with GMO’s. After completion of the camp, the students indicated a shift in opinion on the statement “You are Familiar with GMO’s” towards agreement with the survey statement, providing evidence that over the course of the camp we presented information in such a way as to admirably educate on the topic of Genetic Modification.

Question 4

This survey question resulted in slightly confusing results. The initial surveys contained a large proportion of “I don’t know” responses, with an otherwise significant spread in opinion on other response choices. After the camp, the surveys showed a drastic split in survey response with a large number being in agreement and a large number being in strong disagreement. This indicates that either clarity was not provided on the topic of GMO consumption, or confusion on the phrasing of the question. In future, phrasing alterations will hopefully provide clarity on this issue.

Question 5

The students showed a very strong initial lack of knowledge on the issue of use of Genetic ally Modified Organisms for Medical Treatments. After the camp and our rigorous educational efforts on the uses for and importance of, genetically modified organisms in the medical field, the students reflected those efforts with strong indications towards agreement that GMO’s should be used as vital medical treatment options.

Question 6

This graph is strongly indicative of the general lack of information in the community on Bacteriophages and their uses as shown by the large percent (80%) of responses that were in strong disagreement with the statement or selected “I don’t Know”. Over the course of the camp, we sought to incorporate and discuss bacteriophages in great detail as they play an integral part in our current project. The post-camp responses were very positive in regards to understanding of and familiarity with bacteriophages proving our project integration efforts were successful.

Question 7

The responses received pre-camp to this question showed a large information gap in antibiotic education received prior to camp attendance with a majority of students simply responding with a selection of “I don’t Know”. Post-camp, the responses were much more aligned with the education we provided in terms of antibiotic alternatives, specifically the research being done with Bacteriophages as an alternative method of bacterial infection treatment. The central placement of the responses was expected due to our measured and cautious approach in discussion of this issue and the rising issue of antibiotic resistance.

Biotech Info Night

Harrison, Elise, and Jack presenting at Biotech Info Night

In late September, we held an informational night for the students on our campus. We had 44 students there in total. We advertised this event by passing out flyers at the tutoring center and asking professors of biology and chemistry to pass along the information to their students. Elise, Jack, and Harrison spoke to the eager undergraduates and they were also given a chance to ask questions of their own. We discussed the various applications of biotechnology along with the implications of our own project on coral and bacteriophages.

Info Night Survey

We had the undergraduates participate in a survey before the presentation and also after the presentation. The students were asked to agree or disagree with the statements on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Question 1

After the presentation at Biotech Info Night, there seems to be more students who disagree that GMOs are dangerous to human health. There is less variation in the students’ answers.

Question 2

Following our discourse and our discussion on ethics, the students seemed more likely to disagree with the fact that these matters are unethical. It is humbling to see that no one did not know whether genetic engineering is ethical or not; they all had an opinion in the matter.

Question 3

In our forty-five minute discussion with these students, most of them were able to formulate a better perception of how GMOs work and how they are applied to our world.

Question 4

It was interesting to see that this particular answer in the survey did not change significantly. Most of these students have attended Christian schools all of their lives; therefore, a short conversation on the matter will not sway their minds. This matter needs to be handled in a much larger time period. However, it is encouraging to see how many students disagree with the statement.

Question 5

There was an almost unanimous vote in the post-survey among the students. This shows that our presentation was successful in informing the students on various concepts of biotechnology.

Survey Summary

As a result of biotechnology info night, there seemed to be an increase in the knowledge and opinions formed by the students who attended. We did not have much time to cover all the topics involved with biotechnology, but we were able to get the ideas into the students’ minds. Following the presentation, we had multiple students approach us and ask how they could get involved with the WLC iGEM team. It was great to see that our discussion on biotechnology increased their interest enough to obtain more information. This is great for the continuation of the 2017 iGEM team and we have begun to involve new members into our project.