Education and Communication
Synthetic biology has always been a fascinating subject to many of us; this was the core reason for our participation in iGEM. However, throughout the project, we understood that the masses were unaware of synthetic biology and its potential. Taking this into account, our team conducted and was involved in a multitude of outreach activities directed at propagating synthetic biology among the masses. To make the entire process more effective, we carefully designed different methods to cater to the needs of varying age groups. The extensive publicity provided by the team's PR department (through Whatsapp, Instagram, Twitter, Slack and other social media platforms) also helped gain enormous participation for every event conducted. The outreach activities of our team are broadly aimed at four different age groups, namely:
- 10-15 years (Middle Schooler)
- 15-18 years (High Schooler)
- 18-23 years (Collegiate level)
- 23 years and above (Researchers in STEM)
Category 1: Middle Schoolers (10-15yo)
- SYN-SYNC: Synthetic Biology book for Kids
The middle school curriculum of our country does not teach children about synthetic biology. An illustrated book seemed to be an excellent way for us to introduce the basic concepts of synthetic biology to curious middle schoolers.
The book's content was designed and created by team members and volunteers (juniors in the college), keeping in mind the target audience is kids. The preliminary drafts of the books were shown to kids and incorporated their suggestions of simplifying certain concepts. Furthermore, the book was also reviewed by middle school teachers, who suggested adding more illustrations and games. The book explains the fundamentals of the cell and its organelles, DNA and gene, a brief introduction to synthetic biology, tools for recombinant DNA technology, and how to synthesize human insulin in bacteria using these tools.
In the future, we plan to release an audiobook and translated versions of the book in the local languages so that the book reaches a broad and diverse audience. We distributed the books to kids in schools through their teachers.
The highlights of the book include:
- Simplified concepts: The book straightforwardly explains the basic concepts without using complicated words. The descriptions under each heading were made short and precise so that the kid does not lose interest while reading the book.
- Illustrations: Visual representations of ideas help in understanding them more explicitly. . Often, these illustrations make the book quite attractive.
- Important words highlighted: The words that require more attention or are important are highlighted to grab the readers' attention.
- 'Did you Know' boxes: These boxes give a sneak peek into the concepts beyond the book's scope. They were introduced so that readers could get a basic understanding of such concepts, and those interested could learn more about them.
- Games: Children are generally fond of games. Introducing technical concepts through games would aid in a better understanding.
Syn-sync is a very informative book made by the iGEM IISER_TVM. I was amazed to know that there were bacteria inside our body and this book has made me interested in learning more about them. I answered all questions at the end and the games were also fun. Thank you for creating this book.
Lord’s Academy CMI ICSE School
Find the book here:
Here are a few images that we received, where children have filled out the interactive section of the book:
daniel_sync_crossword, daniel_sync_wordsearch ~Daniel Babu, 8th grader, Lord’s Academy CMI ICSE School
mesheal-sync-crossword, mesheal-sync-wordsearch ~Meshael Matheikal, 7th grader, Lord’s Academy CMI ICSE School
Here is the summary of the SYN-SYNC written by Nathaniel Jude George, a 7th grader:
Category 2: High Schooler (15-18yo)
- SYNBIO 1.0
SYNBIO 1.0 was an entirely cost-free four-day-long synthetic biology course/workshop for students between 15 and 18 years. The workshop was conducted for 11th and 12th graders of Rajagiri Public School, Ernakulam, Kerala, through Google Meet. A meeting with their school teachers helped us learn the extent of prerequisite knowledge children had, which greatly facilitated the making of the study material. The Outreach department of the team carefully designed the course in a simplified manner to educate the senior secondary students (11th and 12th grade) about the fundamentals of synthetic biology.
Date Taught by Topics covered 5th October 2021 Sheba Cheeran
- What is synthetic biology?
- What is iGEM?
- Cloning vectors
- Competent host
6th October 2021 Abhishek Raghunathan
- Restriction enzymes
- Working of restriction enzymes
- Isolation of genetic material
- Restriction digestion
7th October 2021 Abhishek Raghunathan
- Protein expression
8th October 2021 Tejas Sabu
- Moldemort- Project presentation by iGEM IISER_TVM’s project presentation.
- Title tab:The title of the content in the particular slide. This tab helps to give the viewers an overall idea of the topic discussed.
- Short description:A short description of the title/concept discussed.
- Diagrams/figures:Visual representations enhance understanding of concepts.
- Think further tab:This tab contains concept-based questions to check the students’ understanding of the topic. Answers to these questions were discussed in detail.
On each day, a 30-minute presentation was followed by a doubt-clearance session. At the end of each day’s class, we ensured to display pictures of our laboratory equipment and microbial cultures. Since the students were not having access to rigorous laboratory work due to the pandemic, the pictures we showed them gave them an essence of actual laboratory stuff. The analysis of the short quiz and the feedback form released after the workshop showed a considerable change in their understanding of the subject. Students were awarded certificates upon successful completion of the workshop. The study material and answers to the questions in it were also handed over to the teachers of Rajagiri School, Kalamassery and are now available online and accessible to anyone on the internet.
Here is the feedback form released after the workshop: form (SYNBIO 1.0_Feedback Form-Google Forms)
“The question-answer sessions and doubt clarification sessions were very useful for students. Many among the participants became interested to know more about and pursue their higher studies in such fascinating fields in biology.” ~Sunu Varghese Faculty, Department of Biology Rajagiri Public School
“The SYNBIO Programme sessions held by the IISER iGEM team have done a wonderful job by teaching the science students of class 12 on the matter of biotechnology. The topics were taught in a well planned effective manner. A big thanks to the team for all their amazing sessions provided to us.” -Fiza Student, Class 12 Rajagiri Public School
Here is the study material we prepared for the workshop:
Here is the presentation describing our project
Category 3: Collegiate level (18-23yo)
SPLICE was an inter-collegiate synthetic biology quiz conducted by our team. The event was open to worldwide iGEM teams along with all colleges in India. The quiz witnessed the participation of undergraduate students from all over the country. The questions for the quiz were made by our team member Akshay J., who had a priorly rich experience in conducting quizzes for events by several other institute clubs. The event was conducted online through Google Meet. The answers to the questions were displayed at the end of the quiz. As a token of appreciation, the winners were awarded cash prizes and were featured on our social media handles.
Find the questions and answers of the quiz here
“Splice, the synthetic biology quiz organized by Team iGEM, was really nice. More than the prize, the quiz itself was more attractive because of the variety of questions and the fun and knowledge it carried. It gave me a space to think in a new dimension and gave me a lot of knowledge. I enjoyed quizzing. Thank you, iGEM IISER TVM.” ~Merina Tony, 19yo Biology Major 3rd year UG
Find the questions here (CONNECT Presentation) and model answers here (CONNECT_Answers).
“It was a pleasure to take part in the iGEM event CONNECT. It was a bit challenging, yet informative. We really enjoyed playing this game as the crazy team Aqua Tofana.” ~Anaswar S R Biology Major 4th year UG
- Presentation for Freshers:
The latest batch of students had just joined our institute. With a fresh and curious mind to learn new stuff, they were open to learning about synthetic biology and the role of iGEM in propagating it. Therefore, we organized an online interactive session with the students. Around 175 students took part in the same. Being the first iGEM team from our institute, they were very much keen to know about our inspiration and motivation for choosing this project.
Specifically, a majority of the students were eager to learn if our project was to tackle the “black fungus” disease which had become a national emergency during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India. The goal of the project back then was to tackle the fungal infestation on walls as they were a reason for a plethora of respiratory illnesses in critical-care patients.
Our presentation consisted of the following content:
- What is iGEM?
- Why iGEM?
- Some previous year iGEM projects
- Our project
- The motive behind our project.
- How was the idea proposed?
- Brainstorming sessions
A noteworthy question raised by a student:
Jacob: Fungi play a great role in the forest ecosystem. Can the accidental release of the GMOs used to produce recombinant chitinases prove to be detrimental to the forest ecosystem?
Answer: Through literature surveys, we found out that the chitinases we selected when expressed by E. coli gets trapped in inclusion bodies. This prevents the exposure of our enzymes to the environment. It may be detrimental to the forest ecosystem because it can have the potential to harm off-target organisms such as insects as they possess chitin in their exoskeleton. We are going through literature to know more.
“I used to be apathetic in biology, but this presentation completely changed my mind. It led me from being completely unaware of the very magical realm of synthetic biology to becoming a volunteer for a variety of activities for iGEM” ~Adam Zachariah Anil 2nd year UG
Category 4: 23 years and above (Researchers in STEM)
- SYNBIO CONCLAVE
IISER Thiruvananthapuram has hosted and been a part of various talk series by researchers from around the globe. Such sessions have always motivated passionate researchers and have ameliorated their careers. They aid students in finding their research interests and introduce them to unfamiliar areas in science. Moreover, they also throw light on the cutting-edge research happening in each field.
Thence, a talk series highlighting the vast applications of synthetic biology in various fields seemed an engaging way to unveil Synthetic Biology- a developing area of science. SynBio Conclave hosted five different speakers from different walks of synthetic biology.
The conclave received around 300 registrations from all over the world, majorly consisting of graduate students and research scientists.
Sl.No. Name of Speaker Date and time Topic 1. Dr. Drew Endy
- Associate Professor, Bioengineering faculty at Stanford University
- President of the BioBricks Foundation
- Co-founder of iGEM
10:00 PM IST, Aug 10, 2021 Synthetic biology in the context of Biodiversity Conservation 2. Dr. Ming-Ru Wu
- Assistant Professor, DFCI, Harvard Cancer Center
- Assistant professor, Harvard Medical School
06:30 PM IST, Aug 12, 2021 Synthetic gene circuits for cancer immunotherapy: Turning cancer cells against themselves. 3. Dr. Edward Boyden
- Professor of Neurotechnology, MIT
- Leader, Synthetic Neurobiology Group, MIT
06:30 PM IST, Aug 14, 2021 Tools for analyzing and Controlling complex biological systems 4. Dr. Leonardo Morsut
- Assistant Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
09:30 PM IST, Aug 16, 2021 Learning to program tissue development with artificial gene circuits 5. Dr. Pamela A. Silver
- Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School
- Founding Core Faculty, Wyss Institute, Harvard University
- Co-founder of iGEM
06:30 PM IST, Aug 18, 2021 Designing biology for detection and control
Each talk was followed by a question-answer session that saw active participation from the audience. A feedback form was also released after each talk which collected suggestions from the participants and measured the change in their perception of synthetic biology.
Here is the feedback form we collected for Dr. Pamela A. Silver.
Find the analysis of the feedback forms here .
“Synbio Conclave gave me an opportunity to relish the beauty of synthetic biology and to appreciate the vast possibilities that the field offers. The Speaker lineup was just awesome. No doubt, the symposium provided a platform for the student community to interact with the leading synbio researchers of the world. Good organization throughout the event.” ~Sneha P. R., Biology Major, 3rd year UG
Considering the relevance of the project in the Covid Scenario, the impact our project can have on society attracted media attention. This served as a tool to communicate our project with the masses.
The New Indian Express Article
In the month of May, our PI, Dr. Ravi Maruthachalaminformed us that the news outlet ‘The New Indian Express’ had approached him regarding our iGEM project. We took this opportunity to communicate about synthetic biology and iGEM to a broader audience. It would also give us a platform for addressing the importance of our project in the current scenario of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We wrote back to them explaining the idea of iGEM and the outline of the entire project. We put forth our concept of designing a novel, broad-spectrum and eco-friendly anti-fungal solution to combat the rise in drug-resistant fungal strains. We also mentioned the efforts taken by the iGEM community in continuing such groundbreaking projects amidst the covid pandemic.
In the middle of August, we were startled by an email from IndiaBioscience, who wanted to feature us on their platform. They planned to portray various people/teams who have won international grants, which in our case, was the Impact Grant. They wanted to get acquainted with our journey so far, the roots of our project, and other aspects that led to our success in winning the grant. We got back to them soon, explaining the core motivation of our project being the ongoing battle against Invasive Fungal Infections (IFIs). We also explained the relevance of our project and its future applications as a potential therapeutic.
Furthermore, we mentioned how winning the Impact Grant facilitated the smooth execution of our planned experiment and other endeavors. We also discussed the impact iGEM could bring to the country by elevating the current scientific status using tools in synthetic biology.
Interview by EXHIBIT A
The team from Exhibit A, the official publication of the Science and Technology Council of the IISER Thiruvananthapuram, approached us for an interview.
Ms. Ira Zibbu and Ms. Akshita Mittal hosted the interview via Google Meet with a few members of the team (Abhishek Raghunathan, Sagnik Saha, Shrutika Sansaria, Tejas Sabu). We started by briefly explaining the project at different levels of understanding, i.e., increasing difficulty levels, complexity, and detail to people from different age groups. We then talked about the conception of our project idea, how we were inspired to take up our project-Moldemort, and the changes we made to it to have a more significant impact on our society. We also discussed how the iGEM community in India plans to encourage and support upcoming teams, especially from smaller institutes. We then spoke about the meticulous planning of an iGEM project from the beginning and how iGEM is more than just biology. It integrates various other aspects of the project like cost-benefit analysis, the impact of the research in public policy, etc. We concluded the interview by requesting the viewers to scour through wikis of iGEM teams, as we had also received inspiration for our project the same way.
The interview has been uploaded on the official Youtube channel: Science and Technology Council IISER TVM