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Synthetic biology is a very complex topic and difficult to understand for young children
and even adults. Therefore, we created an educational podcast ‘Ask Nici’, which answers questions asked by children. Our goal is to introduce a broader audience to synthetic biology, independent of age and prior knowledge, and show them the exciting world of science to engage with. To accomplish that, our main focus are biological questions of children’s everyday life, especially in times of the pandemic. We explain the basic concepts to give everyone the opportunity to understand the background of synthetic biology in everyone’s life. Thereby, we give examples how it can be used to help humanity in a sustainable and efficient way. We shared ‘Ask Nici’ on several platforms and integrated it in an educational program of the largest German biotechnology student association btS to engage with schools. To reach people all over the world, we created a handbook which was translated into 15 languages.
In our project, we created a plant-based detection system for chemical weapon degradation products, for which a functional and specific receptor is crucial. Therefore, we computationally designed
a receptor based on a ribose binding protein to bind a given chemical. For this we utilized Rosetta and combined it with EvoDock, a Python script that adds an evolutionary approach, and increased the efficiency of the design process. We experimentally showed the binding of the chemical by the computationally engineered receptor and thereby proved our modeling success. This was performed in two approaches, in vitro binding analysis and in vivo by the activation of a signaling cascade resulting in the induced expression of GFP upon specific ligand binding in bacteria. Our engineering pipeline can be re-applied to engineer receptors for countless applications. Following our detailed workflow descriptions, future iGEM teams are able to design their own specific receptors and binding proteins.
Best Plant Synthetic Biology
In our project, we created a plant-based biosensor
in Nicotiana benthamiana
to detect remaining chemical weapon degradation products of past wars. For the detection of our chemicals of interest, we engineered specific receptors using computational protein design. We created a signaling cascade in combination with a receptor, to activate expression of a reporter upon chemical detection. Therefore, we contributed the novel reporter system RUBY and were able to show that its change in leaf color is easily visible, stable over time and its expression can be induced. We proved the functionality of the signaling cascade and the specificity of the receptor in bacteria. As a crucial factor, we were able to prove that N. benthamiana
took up several chemicals of interest in a hydroculture experiment. Altogether we were able to show that our plant-based biosensor can be realized for the detection of chemical weapons degradation products.