Crocin scarcity and cancer are global issues with subsequent local importance as Latvia has the 3rd highest cancer mortality rate in the European Union . A novel method for high quality crocin production is needed for extensive future research into the medical properties of the compound. Engineered yeasts could work for this goal and also create a geographically independent alternative source of the crocin since more that 90% of saffron globally is grown in regions heavily affected by climate change. Within our project we actively consulted with different stakeholders and took into consideration their insights about how we can contribute to the local community. Our team discussed these aspects with not only the scientific advisors we had but also the wider public during the Scientist’s Night. We consulted with the UL Student Business Incubator to determine the best ways to connect with the local start-up community. We learned about local events like Icebreakers’22 where science meets entrepreneurship and students can participate with a commercializable idea and receive support for the further development of it. The takeaway from all of the conversations we had was that synthetic biology can and should be used to create a sustainable way of crocin production, both for environmental reasons, scientific interest as well as business opportunity.
Researchers’ Night 2022
Researchers night is a Europe-wide yearly event where researchers and the public are brought together. The event's objective is to promote scientific research projects, increase interest from the public and showcase the impact of science in people's everyday life. On the 30th of September our team collaborated with the University of Latvia and took part in the event. Our objective in the event consisted of information about synthetic biology, showcasing our team's project - crocin biosynthesis with Rhodotorula toruloides yeast and participation in the iGEM competition. We brought microscopes to show different microorganisms- yeasts, algae and fungi, people could see how they differ from each other. We asked the public- what can you tell us about yeasts? As we got on with the conversation we explained the importance of yeasts in everyday life, the different varieties of them, where they are used and how we are implementing them in our project. The public was amazed about our project idea and the ambition in the competition. Kids loved the chance to look through the microscopes!
Earth School 2022
Earth School 2022 is a Summer camp for 7 to 12 year old kids where the participants learn about nature and environment. On the 21st of July our team led an interactive lesson about yeasts. First, we introduced the kids to the world of microorganisms around us - what they are, why they are needed and how we can benefit from them. An experiment was held where yeast was grown in different conditions and the growth could be estimated by the amount of CO2 production. When the demonstration ended, we allowed kids to blow their own balloons using yeast, sugar and water. The excitement was unbelievable and they all wanted to try the experiment on their own later.
During the experiment, we taught the kids about the importance of asking the questions and searching for answers - we explained that science can be very interactive and consists of asking questions and trying to understand how things work. And to our surprise, the kids started to really get interested about careers as scientists and what are the subjects they need to learn at school to become one. Most probably they just wanted to do fun experiments for life, but this really warmed our hearts to know that hopefully at least one of them will never stop asking questions and the search for answers will continue.
Summer camp “Alpha”
The summer camp “Alpha” is a 2 week long overnight camp for children in grades 9 to 11 who have proved themselves by either winning in national or international olympiads in the field of natural science (mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry or computer sciences) or by winning in the national or an international student scientific project competition. During the camp the participants get to hone their skills in the natural sciences under the guidance of Latvia’s leading researchers while also enjoying the summer.
In this summer camp 2 lectures were held by the Latvia-Riga 2022 iGEM team. A lecture on biotechnology, its applications and methods used and a lecture on how Latvia’s first iGEM team came to be, the project goal, means of reaching it and the design cycle and the iterations we’ve gone through.