Our team hosted two Codeathons - a preliminary UK trial run and a wider audience Codeathon. The Codeathons were friendly meet-ups on Discord, whereby teams had a chance to work on their wikis together and encourage each other to learn the necessary coding skills required (4). Additionally, the Codeathons were set up to encourage non-coders to learn basic HTML and CSS and learn from people who had more experience.
Aside from being fun and interesting, the Codeathons created an online space for teams to share very important information about building Wikis; this included information about methods of minimising syntax for better page optimisation and functioning and what is allowed/not allowed on iGEM Wikis. The check-ins aided the teams in setting SMART goals and a lot of beginner coders asked vital questions that helped them better curate their Wikis.
We created a sticker for participating teams to share on their wikis. See how many you can find on the 2021 iGEM team wikis!
Manchester hosted a synthetic biology podcast to educate and inspire the public about this approach and how it is being applied in industry. As part of this, we invited two iGEM teams to feature on our podcast as we felt our viewers would find their projects particularly interesting.
The first team we invited was St Andrews (10) for their work on developing a probiotic sunscreen to protect coral reefs. St Andrew's project raised important questions about the current usage of toxic compounds within the cosmetic industry and the emerging use of probiotics. In our podcast, we talked about the potential market response to their design and whether genetically engineered cosmetic products have a higher chance of being accepted by the public than products such as novel medical devices.
KCL were the second team to appear on our podcast. KCL are working on a bioprinted scaffold and mussel foot protein bioadhesive to treat spinal cord injuries through strengthening axonal connectivity (2). Our podcast featured very important questions surrounding their design such as the benefits and advantages of using mussel foot protein over already-used adhesives in medicine. Here is the link to our Science communication page, where you can find all of our podcast episodes (11).
After the KCL-hosted UK meet-up, we decided to collaborate with KCL through:
KCL designed a personalised 3D-bioprinted polycaprolactone scaffold, with growth-supporting topographical features for implementation alongside a synthetic mussel foot protein bioadhesive to promote axonal connectivity in patients with spinal cord injury. Here is a link to their Wiki and below is a detailed description of each collaboration aspect (2).
We held bi-weekly meetings with KCL to discuss different aspects of our project from research, modelling and human practices. We advised KCL on the aspects of using cellulose as a potential hydrogel material and mentored them through responding to their questions on creating material robustness through using chemical crosslinking. Through our pointers, KCL determined they would use polycaprolactone instead as it better suited their purpose. They advised us on wiki troubleshooting and on best practices in pitching for funding on crowdfunding websites, which Manchester iGEM wants to take forward when potentially spinning into a start-up. Team: Manchester benefitted from KCL’s experience in iGEM as they are a Phase Two team, which meant we asked about their iGEM expertise.
KCL invited us to give a lecture on Synthetic Biology and the Environment for their Biologix Competition (12). Biologix is KCL-hosted free biotechnology competition aimed at final year secondary school students. Students between ages 16 to 18 who participate in the competition must submit a project poster and attend lectures to develop their understanding of synthetic biology. We focused on giving a highly interactive lecture, using Kahoot quizzes per section to form a more game-like environment and keep the students engaged. We touched on topics such as medical technologies like vaccines; materials waste and bioplastics; fuels and food and agriculture and the synthetic biology developments within each. For example, we discussed recombinant DNA methods and how they have impacted healthcare through increasing accessibility to certain treatments. This benefited our project as we used it as an opportunity to spread awareness about our podcast The Living Revolution as well as practice engaging and interactive presentation styles (13).
Both teams were interested in exploring the dialogue gap between researchers who develop novel solutions and the healthcare practitioners who implement them. We wanted to bring together healthcare practitioners and researchers in a Middle ground-style virtual discussion to understand the different perspectives on novel technologies within laboratory and clinical settings. We wrote a set of five interview questions including approaches to fostering communication between healthcare practitioners and researchers. We interviewed Dr. Heald, who discussed how researchers and hospitals could be more integrated than they are through streamlining regulatory trials. Due to the lack of responses, we chose to change the collaboration into an email exchange and contacted healthcare practitioners and researchers. We received responses from seven questionnaire participants. We hope that future dialogue between researchers and doctors can be encouraged within the medical device field. Our team benefitted from this collaboration as it gave us insight into bridging the gap between the science of an idea and its clinical application - a gap we will have to bridge in the future.