How did we contribute to education in the field of synthetic biology?

We're Gonna Change the World, A Song about Synthetic Biology

We have created several educational initiatives to reach out to our community about IBD: infographics, newspaper articles, and videos. However, we realized that in order for our audience to fully understand our IBD project, they must first understand synthetic biology itself, the tools and foundations which make our project possible. Therefore, we created a mashup song (for an audience of any age?). We aim to make synthetic biology, which can seem like an intimidating and abstract concept to the general audience, into an interactive experience through song lyrics and an animated lyrics video.

We mixed together four popular songs: Style, Call Me By Your Name, Levitating, and Misery. The listener can enjoy familiar melodies, while the change in song keeps them engaged throughout. The lyrics include everything from the discovery of synthetic biology to techniques such as gene editing. Combined with visual elements from the lyrics video, the listener can gain a general idea of what synthetic biology entails.

On this project, we collaborated with three other iGEM teams: iGEM Toronto, iGEM Warwick and iGEM Concordia, and included their voices in our song. We enjoyed sharing our talents and our passion for synthetic biology with each other. This project was a great chance for us to be inclusive of iGEM teams from around the world while educating our audience about synthetic biology.

Synthetic Biology Internship for High School Students

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) prevalence in Canada is among the highest in the world, yet many people in Canada do not know much information on IBD. That is why we find education to be of utmost importance. Although IBD research is our main focus, we believe science education is equally as important. We wanted to educate the younger generation on the significance of scientific research and outreach. To accomplish this goal, we created an internship for high school students to participate in scientific work outside of school, specifically for those who may not have such opportunities. After discussing the possible activities the students were able to do given the current pandemic and the students’ geographical locations, we decided to include shadowing, presentations, dry lab research, and outreach opportunities to give the students a holistic view of what may be involved in a science career. For example, students had to find a peer-reviewed article on IBD, present a summary of the paper and explain what they learned in layman terms. This would expose students to different scientific journals to help them learn the necessary skills for scientific research and understanding. The students were also able to assist the outreach team on their projects by helping to create promotional videos and Instagram posts about inclusivity. To provide an equal opportunity for the many students interested in the limited positions, we created an application form for the potential candidates to submit. A component of the application included a section where students were able to upload any work that they are proud of (ex. Artwork, essays, videos, etc.). This helped us decide who would be a good fit for the position. Successful candidates were then contacted via email and interviews began shortly after to narrow down the many capable candidates. To inform interested high school students, we created a promotional post and advertised it on our social media pages. In the end, we had over 20 applications and chose seven, which included students from all over Ontario and even one from Vancouver. We hope this internship educates them on the vast opportunities science has to offer and gives them an idea of what scientific research entails. We also hope to have inspired the interns to pursue a career in science so more people can pursue a variety of science fields during their careers, including gut microbial education and research.

Frontiers in Gut Research: Collaborative Webinar Between Canada and Greece

In an effort to raise awareness about Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and overall intestinal well-being, McMaster’s Synthetic Biology Research Team (McMaster Synbio) hosted an interactive webinar in collaboration with the University of Thessaly’s Synthetic Biology Team, along with acclaimed researchers Dr. Brian Coombes and Dr. Alexandra Meziti. Dr. Brian Coombes is a professor and chair at McMaster University’s Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Coombes is also the Canada Research Chair in Infectious Disease Pathogenesis and his research is centered around Crohn’s disease and host pathogen interactions. His lab is also currently conducting basic research and working with the private sector to understand the microbes that drive chronic inflammation during Crohn's disease, with a particular focus on adherent-invasive E. coli (AIEC) that are linked to Crohn's disease in humans. In particular, they use cell and animal models to understand how the host responds to AIEC over time. McMaster Synbio’s wet lab team is working on developing a model involving the gut microbiome and utilizing AIEC to tackle IBD. As a result, we felt it was important to include Dr. Coombes as a main guest of this interactive webinar to gain insight on our current project and educate the general public about the impact that IBD can have on gut health. Dr. Coombes also provided insight on break throughs his lab has made relating to understanding the gut microbe interactions involved in IBD as well as some of the current therapeutics used to treat people with IBD. In addition, Dr. Alexander Meziti is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of nutritional sciences and dietetics at the International Hellenic University. Dr Meziti’s research is focused on microbial ecology in aquatic environments and the gut microbiome under changing conditions. Her lab also uses animal models including fish to study gut microbe interactions and the effect that these interactions have on intestinal health. Furthermore, the purpose of this interactive webinar was to educate the general public across the globe on the topic of the human gut microbiome and its effect on our well-being. During the webinar, the professors spoke about their respective fields and answered questions from our team as well as the general audience members. This webinar was also livestreamed and recorded in order to reach and educate a wider demographic on the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Lastly, we believe that the topics discussed in this webinar will inspire students to pursue research in the field of gastroenterology so that they can contribute to break throughs in the field and become one step closer to finding a cure for IBD.

From Zebrafish to Synthetic Biology, an Inspiring Webinar

To continue our efforts to raise awareness and create educational opportunities, McMaster’s Synthetic Biology Research Team (McMaster Synbio) conducted an informative webinar on the topic of the microbiome with renowned researcher, Dr. John Franklin Rawls. Dr. Rawls is a professor and expert in the field of microbiology at the Duke University School of Medicine. His lab’s research is focused on using animal models to study host microbe interactions and how they contribute to the etiology of many human diseases. In addition, his lab uses animal models such as zebrafish and mice to study the gut microbiome as these models are similar to human models. They developed the zebrafish as a model system for investigating adipose tissue and genetic regulators of adiposity to gain a better understanding of obesity pathogenesis. Dr Rawls’ research is also centered on understanding how the intestinal microbiome contributes to vertebrate physiology and disease as well as discovering new therapeutic targets for human illnesses ranging from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity and even neurological disorders These topics were discussed in great detail throughout the webinar and Dr. Rawls provided insight on potential therapeutic targets and treatment options for IBD. McMaster Synbio’s wet lab team is developing a model involving the gut microbiome to tackle IBD. As a result, we felt it was relevant to collaborate with Dr. Rawls and educate the public on the importance of the gut microbiome and what research of the gut microbiome could lead to. Through this collaboration, we inspired and encouraged many students to learn more about the gut microbiome as well as pursue research in the field of microbiology.

iGEM at York University

Toward the end of our human practices initiatives this year, we decided to spread word about iGEM to other universities and inspire potential scientists. We met with a couple of students from York University, a large university with several campuses that is located close to us (at McMaster University in Hamilton). We chose York University because it is a top-ranked teaching and research university, so they would have the interest and resources to participate in iGEM.

Since they did not already have an iGEM team, we walked them through how to start a team. We described the different components that make up an iGEM team (wetlab, drylab, human practices) and introduced them to the roles of each subgroup in the iGEM competition. At first, they were surprised with the cost of participating in iGEM, but we guided them through how to obtain sponsors to cover the costs. They are now on their way to creating their own iGEM team and inspiring more students to join at their university.

As scientists and as students in our community, not only do we want to educate the public about science, we also want to inspire more like-minded people to undertake their own mission in science. We hope that after this process, we can inspire new students to join the supportive community of iGEM and make a change.

McMaster SynBio 2021