Aalto-Helsinki x Team Thessaly
The project we currently present is not just our team’s efforts, but has been influenced by our partnership with other iGEM teams. This year, we partnered extensively with the iGEM Team Thessaly, and have worked with them in the context of our wet lab, dry lab and human practices work. The following timeline describes our work together this year.
This partnership has been essential to the development of our team project, and overall team dynamic. It allowed us to constantly learn and troubleshoot together, and relate to the struggles we were going through. In addition to these benefits, we were able to tangibly achieve results and programs together that were essential to the success of our projects. Notably our collaboration on the safety kill switch, dry lab data privacy workshop and the MicrobioCOSMOS event. The following timeline describes our work together this year.
Two teams meet
Our teams met for the first time virtually. Here we learned more about their Phase 2 project, Amalthea. We studied their project when developing ours, since they too have developed an ingestible biosensor and are looking to elucidate the gut microbiome as well.
Wet lab: First meeting
Our first meeting with the wet labs from each team. In this meeting, we discussed our experiment designs and the beginnings of our lab work. The main takeaway of this meeting was the brainstorming we did regarding safety concerns of our ingestible capsules. We also preliminarily discussed semipermeable membranes, and the capsule covering as a whole.
Dry lab: First meeting
This was the first time the dry labs from each team met. Here, we discussed the goals of each team regarding safety and the capsule design. During this meeting, we decided to collaborate further on the concerns regarding data encryption/privacy and modeling. Given the similarities in our projects and our data collection methods, we understood the need to learn more about data privacy practices that will be essential for the implementation of our projects. As such, we decided that we would host a data privacy and safety workshop together.
Human Practices: First meeting
This was the first time the human practices teams met. Here, Team Thessaly presented their idea to host a Microbiome Consortium where teams can talk about research in the field, with a potential to discuss the gut-brain-axis. It was also proposed that Team Aalto-Helsinki would translate Team Thessaly’s children’s book about gut health into Finnish. This way, the message of gut health could be spread to even more children.
HP: Brainstorming Microbiome Consortium
In this meeting, further details on the Microbiome Consortium were discussed. Team Aalto-Helsinki would be co-hosting and it would be held in mid-August. It was agreed that other teams working with the microbiome in their projects would be invited to the conference and we began the brainstorming process for speakers and topics to be discussed.
Wet lab: Safety Considerations
In our second wet lab meeting, we continued on from our previous safety discussion. Team Thessaly presented their theoretical inducible kill-switch which targets the safety concern of the capsule breaking and genetically modified organisms (GMO) leaking out. Team Aalto-Helsinki contributed to the conversation by presenting a theoretical plan that would render genetically modified DNA harmless if it were to escape the cell. To learn more about our detailed safety plans for our ingestible biosensor, please refer to our safety page.
Dry lab: Brainstorming Workshops
In our second dry lab meeting, we further discussed what the data privacy and safety workshop would look like. A definitive schedule with workshop topics and activities were determined.
HP: Podcast Visit
During this meeting, we discussed the podcast episode Team Thessaly would be a guest on. The podcast questions and scheduling was confirmed here. Additionally, planning of the microbiome conference continued and invitations to other iGEM teams were delivered. Some potential speakers were discussed and plans to meet with them were determined.
All team: Data Privacy Workshop
On this day, the dry labs from both teams co-facilitated a Data Privacy workshop! The workshop was split into two sections: the morning section was reserved for the dry labs only and the afternoon section was open to all members of both teams.
During the morning session, more technical details were brainstormed amongst the teams. They discussed topics such as data anonymization, data compression, encryption methods, comparing and contrasting transmission methods (i.e., bluetooth vs. wifi) as well as topics related to the capsule such as battery choice and potential issues that may arise with the capsule.
In the afternoon session, both teams were introduced to the general topic of data safety and security and why it is so essential. Both teams presented how their capsules plan to collect and transmit data, and we observed how the methods varied depending on the end goal of each project. We then split up into breakout rooms where we discussed risk detection and how to improve the safety of the capsule. The below image visualizes what was discussed in the break out rooms.
More information on data safety can be found here.
HP: MicrobioCOSMOS Planning
The conference name is determined, MicrobioCOSMOS! Teams have begun to register and the activities for the conference were planned at this meeting. In addition to conference planning, Team Thessaly proposed a survey project where they would curate a few surveys regarding GMOs, the Mediterranean diet and gastrointestinal disorders. The surveys would be created with valuable input from experts in the field and would be answered by participants in both Greece and Finland.
Wet lab: Semipermeable Membranes
In our third wet lab meeting, we discussed the current semipermeable membranes on the market. We we went through the pros and cons of each to see if they would be suitable for our projects. Otherwise, we updated each other on our wet lab progress and the issues we faced.
HP: Conference Planning and Surveys
Further planning for MicrobioCOSMOS was underway and we decided to release the surveys for joint analysis between the two countries to happen in a month. Given our timeframe, however, the execution of these surveys was not possible.
HP: MicrobioCOSMOS Day!
The MicrobioCOSMOS was a great success! We had many teams participating from all over the world. We got to hear everyone present about their project and its relation to the microbiome, listen to guest speakers and participate in an ethics workshop discussing the ethical dilemmas in everyone’s projects.
To download the Foresight report from MicrobioCOSMOS, click here.
The Giant Jamboree!
To celebrate our hard efforts this year, we have decided to finally meet in real life and celebrate the Giant Jamboree together. Us, alongside iGEM teams NTNU of Trondheim, Norway and KU Leuven of Leuven, Belgium will be meeting in Brussels to celebrate. We hope to tour the city, visit local biotechnology companies and host our own poster session alongside watching the broadcast of the awards ceremony.
Team Aalto-Helsinki is incredibly grateful for Team Thessaly this year! It was great to collaborate with other scientists passionate about mental health and illness and synthetic biology as a whole, our project and our time at iGEM would not have been the same without them!