Interview at the Radio Station
We gave a short interview at the campus radio 99,1 of RWTH University. We talked about synthetic biology and explained what iGEM and our project “MEtaPhos” is about. This was a great opportunity to reach out to people who did not know about the field of synthetic biology before. We hope that we were able to interest some people for this exciting topic!
Figure 3: Our team members at the radio station.
In June, we visited the Pius Gymnasium in Aachen and conducted two experiments in the eleventh-grade biology class.
First, we introduced our team and our project, MEtaPhos, in the context of iGEM. Following this brief introduction, we revised some basic knowledge about enzymes and then performed two experiments with the students. The aim of the experiments was to understand the impacts of temperature and substrate concentration on the activity of enzymes. We used colorful assays to determine the enzyme activity and allow the students to see the results unfold. All materials were provided by our team, and we explained every step of both experiments in a presentation as well as in handouts. The students were able to perform the experiments on their own under our supervision. In our final discussion, the students presented their results, and we helped them define the rules of enzymatic activity regarding temperature and substrate concentration. This event was especially important to us as we are of the opinion that experiments and practical work are truly lacking in German high schools. We would have liked more practical insights in the sciences as this will be part of our jobs one day.
Due to the success of this school visit and the enthusiasm of the students, but also on our part, we decided to visit another high school. Therefore, we visited the Görres Gymnasium in Düsseldorf to talk about our project, synthetic biology, and enzymes as well as to perform the experiments with the students one more time. The students really enjoyed the practical excursion and asked many questions, for example about biology studies and biotechnology as a field of science. We were truly happy to answer all these questions and to see the future generation of scientists evolve.
Experiment instructions and presentationsTemperature dependence of ureaseSubstrate concentration dependence of ureaseSchool presentation
Publication of an Article in BIOspektrum
To educate a broader public about our project, we also submitted an article about it to the German science magazine “BIOspektrum”. The article was published in the September 2022 issue of the magazine. BIOspektrum reaches a scientific audience, which allowed us to talk about our project in more technical detail than usual. This was a great chance for us to learn scientific writing and to introduce “MEtaPhos” to the professional world of synthetic biology.
Because BIOspektrum is a German magazine the article was published in German. However, an English version is provided for you below:
“Phosphorus is a basis for life. It is a component of DNA and therefore an indispensable nutrient for the growth of animals and plants. In order to permanently provide crops with the necessary phosphorus, which they absorb in bound form as phosphate, fields are regularly fertilized.
The phosphorus contained in the fertilizer is mainly mined in open-cast mines. However, the quality and quantity of this valuable raw material are dwindling.
Therefore, the development of efficient phosphate recovery is urgently needed. Large amounts of unused phosphate can be found in wastewater, which is why we as iGEM Team Aachen 2022 have made it our task to recover phosphate in wastewater treatment plants.
Proteins that bind phosphate have already been isolated from microorganisms. However, these are unsuitable for use in wastewater treatment plants because the phosphate remains bound in the protein and cannot be used.
This is precisely where our MEtaPhos project (Modified Enzymes targeting Phosphate-recycling) comes in. We use modern methods of protein engineering to make phosphate-binding proteins switchable by external stimuli. The goal is for the proteins to bind phosphate from wastewater and later release it in a targeted manner. To do this, we incorporate a kind of “light switch” into the proteins.
Specifically, we insert the light-sensitive VIVID-domain from the mold fungus Neurospora crassa into our phosphate-binding protein. In the dark, the proteins bind phosphate from wastewater. If blue light is switched on, the protein changes its conformation, and the phosphate is released. This process is reversible: if the light is switched off again, the protein resumes its original conformation and can bind new phosphate.
The recombinant proteins we have developed could add efficient phosphate recovery to conventional wastewater treatment plants.
Using our recovered phosphate, we will produce polyphosphate with the help of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In this form, it can be used directly as a fertilizer.
Thus, with our project we contribute to the establishment of a sustainable circular economy.”
BIOspektrum Volumne 28, Issue 5, Article of iGEM Team Aachen 2022
Figure 4: Cover of the science magazine BIOspektrum.
Public Relations Event Mayersche
It was very important to us to get opinions about our project from non-specialist people or consumers in addition to expert opinions. We also wanted to make a larger audience enthusiastic about our project. At the beginning of September, we got the opportunity to exhibit our project in the local bookshop “Mayersche”. We hung up our team booth poster in the “Mayersche” and were available for questions and discussions for all visitors to the bookshop. We also distributed flyers that briefly explained iGEM in general and introduced our team and project. This allowed us to have very interesting discussions! Among others, with a gentleman who came from the economic sector. Through this event, we were able to get another perspective on our project and establish more contacts. We also distributed copies of our self-made comics for children in order to really get every age group excited and educated on our project and synthetic biology in general.
Figure 5: Presentation of our project in the bookstore Mayersche.
Here is the flyer about iGEM and our project we also distributed at the bookshop.Flyer
Since the phosphate problem is a big problem for all people in the world, we felt that it is extremely important to make all people aware of it. However, to genuinely being able to understand all the different factors playing into the problem, one has to have basic knowledge about the phosphorus cycle and about biology, more specifically ecology. Therefore, we have set ourselves the goal of designing an interactive platform on which everyone can click through various graphics and receive topic-specific information.
In order to ensure that as many people as possible around the world can grasp the problem and our problem-solving project, we initially decided to write all texts in German and English. In addition, we have written texts both in more scientific language and in a simple language, which should be more suitable for children. In this way, we included both adults and children from different nationalities.
In order for it to not just become a page with boring texts, together with our design team, we handcrafted various themed graphics and made them more user-friendly with an appealing design. Various objects can now be clicked on this page and the knowledge in certain areas can be deepened. In addition, the concept enables each person to look at the areas that particularly interests them.
Of course, our MEtaPhos project is also presented in more detail to present a possible solution to the problem. Contact options are also linked to our team, as well as our website and the wiki. This means that interested people can obtain even more detailed information if they wish.
Our project-mascot “Plushy” also refers to a quiz that we have integrated to test the gained knowledge. After reading the information texts, anyone interested can playfully deepen their knowledge with the quiz.
We hope that with this concept, we can draw the attention of as many people as possible to the problem of phosphate and thus take a step towards more conscious action.
Plushy the Microbe
We created our mascot Plushy the Microbe to spread international awareness about genetically modified organisms and snythetic biology in general. Plushy is travelling around the world and thereby visits other iGEM teams. Each team then attaches a wool thread to plushy to represent the multiply flagellated bacterium Escherichia coli. Plushy tells the incredibly important story of synthetic biology in each team’s native language. The iGEM teams post Plushy and the following text in their languages on Instagram, telling everyone in which contexts GMOs are used and thereby emphasizing their importance in the pharmacological field and in the food industry. The text aims to reach a general, international audience and to teach said audience, that GMOs are not necessarily dangerous but on the contrary are quite vital to our society as we know it today. To also make it appealing for kids, we wrote the text in a simple and understandable, yet informative manner. Plushy visited the following teams: MSP iGEM (Netherlands), iGEM KU LEUVEN (Belgium), Aalto-Helsinki iGEM (Finland), iGEM Chalmers Gothenburg (Sweden) and iGEM Vienna (Austria). Every team was very excited to receive Plushy and we had great exchanges!
Here you can read the text that Plushy tells all participating countries:
Hi, nice to meet you! My name is Plushy the Stuffed Microbe and I want to travel the world by meeting iGEM teams around the globe. Originally, I’m from Aachen in Germany but today I’m with (@yourinstatag) from (country) and together, we want to tell you how incredibly useful and important synthetic biology really is.
First, I’d like to give you an idea of my favourite topic in the entire world: Synthetic biology. It can be seen as an interdisciplinary field of science combining molecular biology, organic chemistry, engineering, nanobiotechnology and informational science. It often involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities.
The newest discoveries and inventions from the last decades opened up a lot of new possibilities to solve major problems. I would like to give you some examples by introducing some of my colleagues and friends:
One of the most well-known areas of application that you will find me and my friends in is the field of pharmacy. There are already more than 300 medications, which consist of only about 20 ingredients produced by genetically engineered kinds of ourselves. Most commonly, we help to produce EPO (erythropoetin) and insulin.
The genetically engineered form of my buddy Streptomyces produces the policemen against yeasts: “Azalomycin”; fighters against cancer: “Nigericin”; and the protectors from harmful bacteria: “Elaiophylin”.
But you will also discover us in the large area of food! Interesting examples of this are Bt Corn, the flavoring substance vanillin and golden rice.
In the case of the Bt Maize, we isolated the Bt protein from our old friend “Bacillus thuringiensis” and genetically engineered it into the maize. The protein initially forms a non-toxic form, which is converted into a toxic form in the intestine by certain chewing insects. This results in an insecticidal effect, which of course is not dangerous for our friends, the humans.
The golden rice was specially invented for developing and emerging countries because my friends and I want to help fight the vitamin A deficiency that is common there. We helped to insert a gene that produces an increased amount of beta-carotene (provitamin A). Our product is also regarded as the flagship product of transgenic green genetic engineering.
I hope that me and my friends, the GMOs, could give you an idea of how incredibly useful and important synthetic biology is. Now you know that we don’t want to harm you but work hard everyday to secure your living standards.
To follow my journey around the world, go check out my parents‘ Instagram @igem.aachen and I’ll see you next time!
On our instagram account @igem.aachen we posted educational posts about biotechnology and synthetic biology to inform and teach our followers about this important topic.
Earth Day - 5 Ways to Help the Earth
With this post on the annual Earth day, we informed and educated our followers about how to be more sustainable and save resources, for example by taking shorter showers and turning off lights.
Jugend forscht translated means youth research and is a competition for young pupils in Germany. It can be described as “iGEM for schools”. A person or a group up to three people work together on a scientific or technological project to win the price. This year, the winning project in biology was a project very close to our project “MEtaPhos”. Their project “phosphate recycling with electroflotation” convinced the jury that the project is a pioneering method for the recovery of phosphate. We educated our international followership on this important event, as both the competition and the winning project are quite similar to ours.
To introduce the microorganism Escherichia coli, which is most used in synthetic biology and used in our project, and to spread awareness of the usefulness of genetically modified organisms, we have created Plushy the microbe. Plushy is a stuffed animal in the shape of an E. coli. In our post we talked about the importance of microorganisms in biotechnology and synthetic biology. For example, many findings in recent years and decades have been researched using E. coli and many fundamentals have been observed in E. coli. We also wanted to make clear that not everything one hears about GMOs is true and that they actually are quite essential to humanity.
Figure 6: Our mascot Plushy in front of our lab building!
To see the text and our associated post, go to Plushy the Microbe.
To celebrate the Pride month 2022, we informed our followers about famous queer scientists and their lives as well as the challenges queer people had to face in science. We are proud to be an inclusive and open-minded team and want to spread this acceptance.