Our iGEM Groningen team of the year 2022 has made multiple contributions for future iGEM teams. These contributions regard education, human practices, and engineered parts. We find it essential to leave contributions behind since it emphasizes the essence of science. As the quote of Albert Einstein beautifully describes, everyone runs into problems, but with creative thinking a solution will be found. This is, of course, applicable to the iGEM competition, in which many teams have to figure out how to implement their project safely, come up with creative outreaches or engineer new genetic parts. The essence of science, in our opinion, lies in building upon knowledge from others to reach higher goals. The contributions that every iGEM leaves behind results in finding problems on a higher level, since previous problems have already been solved.

How to responsibly create a valuable survey

We ourselves have made heavy use of the iGEM contributions of last year’s iGEM Groningen team 2021. As a contribution, they left behind templates to ensure data protection and informed consent. During their project, they have spent a lot of time on background research and brainstorming to reach this goal. This time-consuming process unfortunately prevented them from reaching out to all intended stakeholders. Their documents help future iGEM teams to ensure data safety and include informed consent more easily, thereby not running into the problem of time shortage to talk to stakeholders.

Informed consent and data protection are a very important part of conducting research ethically, safely, and responsibility. This is especially the case when collecting potentially personally identifiable data, or any stakeholder interview for that matter. Our team has designed and implemented an elaborate human practices approach which highly values consent and data safety. We have built upon the templates provided by Groningen 2021, and created a truly iGEM-unique tool to utilize in your human practices approach.

We have seen a lot of teams struggling with their surveys in the past. They for example rushed their survey into the world and received ambiguous, useless, or even no results at all! It is not ethical to conduct research using human participants without a well-thought over plan, and maybe more importantly, it is a waste of time for everyone involved. Therefore, it is crucial to properly think through your survey from beginning to end, which will also have significantly more potential to make a nice contribution to your eventual project. We decided that we would create a responsible and safe survey, which was designed to give us valuable data which we could use. We have recorded all of our steps on our human practices page, as well as provided a 10-step guide (see figure 1) on how to take all of the steps we took to ensure that your survey is responsible and valuable. We have also contributed the information and informed consent statement template which should be at the beginning of the survey (see figure 2). Remember, that informed consent and data protection is something you should always keep in mind when dealing with human research participants.

For a more elaborate description of the approaches mentioned, definitely check out our human practices page where we discuss everything in detail.

Educational Material

In our three educational outreach programmes, we have focused our materials on the youth for different target groups within society. In short, we developed classroom material for high schools in the form of an escape room, called ‘Escape the Classroom’, we performed guest lectures at an elementary school regarding our project and science in general, and we attended the Weekend of Science in Groningen in which we performed a small experiment about hygiene. All three educational outreach activities have been worked out in more detail on our Education and Communication page.

We found it relevant to focus on the youth to understand the concept of synthetic biology at a younger age than the Dutch biology curriculums allowes. This subject is not touched upon in high schools or at lower education levels. With our educational programmes, we have given children insights in synthetic biology and subjects surrounding synthetic biology. It is important to continue to address this concept to the youth since synthetic biology impacts the world more and more each day. As a contribution, we therefore leave behind templates and scripts of our educational material as an inspiration to future iGEM teams and as actual education material for biology teachers. Especially, the ‘Escape the Classroom’ material, an actual escape room about synthetic biology, has a work-out description of all the puzzles, storyline, and supporting tabels to figure out the puzzles (see figure 3). Moreover, the escape room is adaptable to different levels of difficulty due to the availability of templates of e.g. the question cards. If a teacher finds the level of difficulty too high for their students or the subject deviates too much from their curriculum, they could easily implement their own questions. The ‘Escape the Classroom’ materials are accompanied by a step-by-step guide on how to set up an escape room yourself, the templates are attached below the guide. Also included is a workshop description that can be used to contact high schools (see figure 4).

For the educational project ‘Elementary school’, the educational materials such as hand-outs and our presentation (see figure 5) form an inspiration for future iGEM teams. Since this project was a great success, the elementary school would like to make the guest lectures a collaborative tradition between iGEM and them. Therefore, for the future iGEM Groningen teams, as a contribution, we leave the contacts of the school and teacher behind.

Engineered parts

Our “Nanobuddy” project entails the genetic modification of Limosilactobacillus reuteri to express and secrete nanobodies. These nanobodies are compatible with a broadly conserved part of the avian influenza viral entrance-receptor: hemagglutinin. Upon binding of a nanobody to this receptor, it renders the virus incapable of infection. L. reuteri will be introduced to the lungs of chickens where it should be contained by the use of an OR-gated kill switch, requiring both high temperature and absence of light for the organism’s survival. In the course of our project, we have designed 36 different plasmids with various purposes. More detail on the kill switch design and plasmid constructs can be found on our Wiki under Engineering. In total, 88 parts have been designed to experiment with nanobody expression and secretion and the kill switch development. These parts are either basic or composite and are uploaded to the iGEM Registry. Secondly, all assembled parts are listed in more detail on our parts page.