It was important for us that the work we conducted during the 2022 iGEM cycle was useful for future iGEM teams and beyond. Thus we have worked through an easy-access scope, aiming for standardization and open-source whenever possible.

Our efforts in communication and education

Collaboration with Biotech Academy to create educational material for high school students in the years to come

We wanted our communication efforts to be accessible and relevant even after our project ended with the Giant Jamboree in October. In order to achieve this purpose we allied ourselves with the Danish organization Biotech Academy, which develops educational material for Danish schools (ages ~11-18). With approximately a million annual visitors on their website, Biotech Academy is among the top providers of educational material on biology, chemistry and biotechnology in Denmark.
Biotech Academy seeks to spread enthusiasm about STEM to all Danish kids, regardless of gender, location and socio-economic background by sharing the wonders of biotechnology. These values align well with the values of iGEM and our team members this year. Thus, a collaboration between Biotech Academy and DTU BioBuilders seemed to be in order.
The organizations agreed that Biotech Academy (under DTU BioBuilders guidance) would provide a general overview of the iGEM competition, including a short introduction to synthetic biology in general. This introduction to iGEM and synthetic biology was incorporated into an already existing page on the website revolving around modern gene technologies to secure a good ranking of the page on Google and other search engines. The resulting page can be found here.
Meanwhile, DTU BioBuilders 2022 would create a well-written story and visuals about our iGEM project and the impact it potentially can have on the future. The resulting page is especially relevant for the oldest Danish high school students (17-20 years old), who all have to write a big assignment (SRP) revolving around solving a specific problem. To encourage an open dialogue, we incorporated questions throughout the text for the readers to discuss in class. The page can be found here and downloaded as a PDF here.

Workshop held in connection with DTU SummerScience, encouraging kids to learn during their summer holiday

We wanted to share our enthusiasm for synthetic biology with the younger generation of scientists and explorers: the kids. We allied ourselves with the DTU initiative “DTU SummerScience”, which aims at engaging kids in science throughout their summer holiday. On five occasions throughout June to August, we presented the concept of synthetic biology to the participants of our workshop. The workshop started with an open discussion about the associations the kids had with the words “biology” and “biotechnology”, followed by a summation and connection between the two terms. The kids really astounded us with their knowledge, but especially with their perspective; they were able to easily connect concepts and find patterns. We saw the discussions spread amongst the kids, and are convinced that these discussions will be brought home to the friends and families of the kids to some degree. We then explained how and what we do (synthetic biology) can be seen as “creating new life” and how we use the traits and organisms we know to solve real life problems. We then asked the kids to use their creative skills (much like we find ourselves doing in iGEM) for problem solving.
There were two distinct groups of kids; kids aged 8-11 years and kids aged 12-15 years. The presentation used were close to identical, but with some small alterations as mentioned below.
For the younger kids, we had them draw a microorganism that could help them solve a problem, and describe the traits this microorganism had which would help it perform the needed task; this resulted in the creation of wonders such as:

  • The lifeguard bacteria, complete with massive muscles to swim fast, built-in flippers and impeccable underwater vision.
  • Poul, the surveillance bacteria; are you allergic to dogs, but need help guarding your house? Poul has a million eyes and great vision to help you see!
  • The math-helper bacteria, quick to come to the rescue, when you are struggling with your math homework. It has a massive brain to hold all your knowledge, a built-in ruler and good teaching skills, so you will understand what it says.

For the older kids, we gave them more specific tasks to solve by using microorganisms. They could choose from one of the following problems, or think of one themselves:

  • Lack of space for crops to grow on Earth
  • Lack of clean water
  • Oil spills in the oceans
  • Plastic contamination

Pictures from DTU SummerScience

While the kids were drawing, we walked around and talked with them about their microorganisms, and we were truly amazed by their ingenuity. Furthermore, when alluding to our iGEM project, we were often asked by the kids to elaborate, proving that the kids were genuinely excited about synthetic biology and the work we did. The presentations used during our time at DTU SummerScience can be accessed in an English version with helpful notes to guide the workshop here, while the notes (in English) can be found here.

In total, we reached around 110 young Danish kids (including a few parents) through our participation in DTU SummerScience. We hope that the participating kids (who were clearly motivated enough to participate with such engagement) will act as science ambassadors, and bring the knowledge and inspiration they received back to their friends and respective schools.

Bringing science workshops to schools in collaboration with the biggest Danish Science Center (Experimentarium) and the Danish Science Festival

In an effort to reach even more people, engage with and learn from professional science educators and spread more curiosity regarding synthetic biology, DTU BioBuilders entered into a collaboration with the Danish science center Experimentarium, a world class science center with around 400.000 visitors each year and a truly inspiring mission of making learning fun. Additionally, week 39 is the national week of natural science (Naturvidenskabsfestival) in Denmark, and the theme of 2022 is “Mysterious World” - exceptionally well-suited for talks about synthetic biology. Thus, it was decided that DTU BioBuilders would be inviting interested schools to participate in workshops at Experimentarium during week 39.

To allow as many people as possible to learn, we invited schools to bring in kids ages 7 to 16 years. The main part of the day was spent in a craft mode; all kinds of crafts material was presented for the kids to be creative in solving their chosen problems. We saw amazing solutions to relevant problems, including:

  • Problem: Energy crisis
    • Solution: Utilizing an engineered coculture of algae and microorganisms/small marine animals capable of bioluminescence to produce energy to light the streets at night, or even power your TV.
  • Problem: Lack of raw materials (and too many stolen bikes in Denmark)
    • Solution: Engineering a plant to extract raw materials from the ground and eventually incorporate them into the construction of a bike, to allow for easy and fast transportation to school in the mornings.
  • Problem: Plastic pollution in oceans
    • Solution: Engineering an octopus to be able to digest the plastic waste floating in the ocean

Throughout the day, DTU BioBuilders would engage with the students to help encourage, brainstorm and challenge the kids to think like engineers. We were excited by their innovative ideas and creative thinking! We were very excited about the conversations that we were able to have with the students, and noticed much conversation amongst the students regarding synthetic biology and the challenges the world is facing. The presentations used during our workshops can be accessed in an English version with helpful notes to guide the workshop here, while the notes (in English) can be found here.

Developing BioBuilders: a game, allowing society to experience the fun and potential of synthetic biology, and expanding it to create a tool for high school biotechnology students to learn while playing

DTU BioBuilders wanted to expand the knowledge of synthetic biology to a broader audience, and additionally create a tangible product. We decided to develop a board game centering around the SDGs, synthetic biology and Danish humor. Each player is given a persona, and each persona has a problem based on a specific SDG. The goal of the game is to build a gene cassette capable of solving the problem your persona has. You do this by visiting each of the DNA Collection Sites to receive the DNA you need (gene of interest, promoter, terminator, marker and primers), and then bringing all your DNA to the GMO lab. Your persona has a superpower and a fatal flaw making the game easier for you in some ways, and more difficult in others. Additionally, the game is filled with event cards, providing (dis)advantages to the game, often through the mischievous Professor FiddleFinger (who will most definitely blame you for his farts and take credit for your research) or by alluding to common lab terms (“Your transformation was successful! Move 2 squares”), also giving a brief explanation of the difficult terms used.
The goal of the game is to entertain the public while also informing them of the SDGs and the opportunities of synthetic biology. Further, the School Expansion allows for incorporation into biotechnology classes in high school.
The rules are freely available here.
In the game, your SDG-based persona affects how you will perceive and play the game to a large degree. Are you the Hungry Astronaut, looking to produce animal protein in microorganisms (SDG 2), the Resourceful Germaphobe searching for a way to create disinfectant from urine (SDG 6), or maybe the Recycle Disciple hoping to break down waste into smaller components (SDG 12)? All personas have a story, a superpower and a fatal flaw, adding depth to the game. Additionally, every persona has been linked to a previous iGEM project, allowing curious players to learn even more.

The persona cards are freely available here and here.

To win the game, you must collect all the parts needed for your gene cassette. You do this by moving around the board, visiting DNA Collection Sites and ending up first in the GMO lab, winning yourself the title of winner.

The board game is freely available here.

To make the game even more dynamic, event cards are an integrated part of the game. Through the event cards, the players will be introduced to synthetic biology terms, and the menacing Professor FiddleFinger who is up to no good.

The event cards are freely available here and here.

To test our game, we were lucky to be allowed a visit at the Danish high school Svendborg Gymnasium. Here, we tested our game and observed the things that worked and the things that needed to be improved. We also collected the unbiased thoughts of the participants through an anonymised Google Form. From the learnings of this experience, and also through communication with high school teachers, we decided to develop an expansion to BioBuilders. This “School Expansion” incorporates questions in synthetic biology that will support the high schoolers to learn even more through their playing of the game, thus enabling gamification of their biotechnology classes.

Bringing synthetic biology to all Danes through a TV-spot on national TV during prime time

We wanted to share our project and our enthusiasm for synthetic biology with all the Danish generations. To achieve this, we contacted the Danish national television channel TV2. TV2 came to our lab and interviewed us for a 2.5-minute long feature in the best airing time on TV. Roughly half a million Danes have been watching this feature, which corresponds to approximately 8% of the Danish population! With this opportunity, we promoted the knowledge about synthetic biology and its applications as well as the iGEM competition to a broad audience that most likely heard about these topics for the first time. Professor Mette Lübeck participated in the feature to comment on our project. She has taken part in research regarding the use of lignocellulosic waste for production of organic acids with filamentous fungi and she therefore has a relevant background for understanding and commenting on our project: “I think it is a really really good idea, because anything that will help us use all the waste we make instead of using food [for production] is a fantastic idea.”

Spreading knowledge on our project and iGEM through a blog post on Eurofins’ DNA Universe Blog

We had the opportunity to publish a guest blog post about our project on Eurofins’ The DNA Universe Blog. In this way we could increase the awareness and outreach not just for our project, but also for iGEM and synthetic biology in general. The blog post can be found here.

Sharing and gaining inspiration through participation in the Transcription Factor Symposium

DTU BioBuilders 2022 members Nanna Marie Tørring Koefoed and Naiara Hurtado Lopez actively participated in the Novo Nordisk Foundation Symposium - Rethinking Transcription Factors. Researchers from many parts of the world gave fantastic talks about the most updated Transcription Factors research. The talks were followed by lively discussions among the scientific community. During the poster sessions DTU BioBuilders shared our project and gave a short pitch. After the pitch we got feedback from renowned researchers in the field of structural biology and protein engineering. Overall, the NNF Symposium was a great opportunity to network and put human practices into action. A multidirectional way of learning and a platform to involve the scientific community into iGEM.