For education, we’ve made two-way dialogues with people at various ages and types to shape synthetic biology and achieve public values. One of our main focuses was material design. We designed a board game on the topic of bacteriophage modification. It is designed to educate the entire public on how bacteriophage helps solve problems around the world (in short, each player is playing as a bacteriophage, trying to find a matching DNA to solve the crisis given). It is an interesting way for people from different age groups to learn how bacteriophage works and, most importantly, as they slowly realize how powerful a phage can be when facing all the global issues, it becomes a game that evokes their passion for synthetic biology, changing people’s mind on synthetic biology. We even brought this game to elementary, middle, and high schools to teach students about synthetic biology, and we also took this material to present at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan, influencing "hundreds" of audience on the importance of synthetic biology. We have successfully educated people from elementary school level all the way to the elderlies we met during one of our trips into the community.(more in communication) Below are all of the educational projects we've done, including the taking the aforementioned communicational material to the National Museum of Natural Science to educate the public, holding a workshop with elementary schools, founding a BioTech club with middle school students, and holding a STEAM Fair to educate high school students. We've also received knowledge and got educated from many people through different aspects, which are all entailed below.
Communication is an essential process of iGEM since it’s all about communicating your ideas, your experiment, and your opinions to all sorts of people no matter if they are a part of iGEM or not. It’s all about spreading the enthusiasm for synthetic biology. We couldn’t think of a better way to spread our enthusiasm by using a board game as our material. We designed a board game on the topic of bacteriophage modification. It is designed to educate the public on how bacteriophage helps solve problems around the world (in short, each player is playing as a bacteriophage, trying to find a matching DNA to solve the crisis given). It is an interesting way for people to learn how bacteriophage works and, most importantly, as they slowly realize how powerful a phage can be when facing all the global issues, it turns into a game that evokes their passion for synthetic biology, changing people’s view on synthetic biology. (more in communication)
We even brought this game to elementary schools to teach children about synthetic biology, and we also took this material with us to present at the National Museum of Natural Science, influencing hundreds of audience on the importance of synthetic biology. From the responses we got, with students wanting to join us, with little children enjoying the process of the experiment and the board game, and with inspired adults asking us questions regarding the competition, we surely spread a lot of “synthetic biology seeds” in our society. (more in communication)
We were granted the opportunity to exhibit our work, experiment, and board game with the general public at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan. It was during the Biotechnology Festival hosted by the museum; we were given a stall where not only could we explain to the general public our project and what iGEM is, we could have people sit down and have a quick experiment and a quick game! We got people from different ages, all the way from elementary school children to 64 years-old grandma.
The procedure went like this: when a person arrives near our stall, we have people inviting them to a 10 minutes one-on-one session on iGEM. Through the one-on-one session, the public can actively ask us questions about DNA or experimental principles, and we will help them solve their questions in time. We first introduced them to what synthetic biology is through origami. Through a simple origami activity, people could gain a general overview on the structure of DNA and what it does. We also explained to them what we were planning to do this year for our project while they were making the origami. We then have five minutes for a quick experimentation to evoke their interest in synthetic biology. To be more specific, the experiment was on banana DNA extraction. From that simple but yet so interesting experiment, people could realize that maybe synthetic biology isn’t that complicated and unreachable, it is something that more people should also engage in. For the remaining three minutes, we invite them to a quick round of Snaky Salmonella. Through that game, we successfully communicated our project’s main idea, the importance and the impact of bacteriophage, and our enthusiasm for synthetic biology.
For the primary school kids, we held a one-day Synthetic Biology Workshop in our school. Since synthetic biology is beyond their curriculum, we reached out to a local elementary school nearby, offering an opportunity to teach them about synthetic biology and iGEM. The school, Jiu-De Elementary School was kind enough to accept the offer and brought their kids to our school for a lab visit and a quick lesson.
Firstly, we introduced them to the laboratory to learn about different experimental equipment and understand their uses and principles. In addition to us simply explaining, it was also accompanied by any questions, showing signs of their engagement during the process. There is also a pipette operation competition, in which they were given tasks that evaluate on their accuracy, precision, and efficiency, adding fun while understanding how the equipment works! Next, we introduced them to the experiment-- strawberry DNA extraction, giving them a chance to explore themselves. Through this experiment, we let the children understand what role each material plays in the experiment, and deepen their memory on what we’ve taught as they were operating themselves.
In the end, we also invited them to play a couple rounds of the board game. Out of our expectation, many of them actually enjoyed the game! Who would have thought that a modified version of a classic game would actually attract kids. We saw them discussing which bacteriophage is better based on their different abilities and types of bacteria and disease they can combat, they were intrigued! We believe we’ve successfully planted a little seed of synthetic biology in their heart. Hopefully, one day, the seed will ferment and one of them can devote themselves to this field!
From these three activities you could see that, in addition to education, we also did not forget about entertainment, giving the children the opportunity to get different knowledge outside their curriculum!
It is extremely crucial for us to pass this tradition down to the juniors for this enthusiasm of synthetic biology to be inherited. In order to do so, we spent extra time founding a club for biotechnology at our school, inviting the juniors, the next generation, to start touching on the topic of synthetic biology and preparing for the future iGEM competitions. We held a stand in the most busy hallway in our school, hoping to attract more students to join us. Luckily, we were able to attract 14 juniors who were inspired and interested in the experiments and biotechnology. Therefore, we used several holidays and weekends to train the juniors, starting from the fundamental element-- knowledge. We designated an entire week imparting knowledge necessary for genetic modification so that they would be well-prepared for the experiments to come. In addition to imparting biological knowledge, we also took them to the laboratory to personally operate the experiment, from the most basic pipette operation to mini prep, PCR and so on. By letting the juniors conduct experiments together in a group, they could directly ask questions about the problems they encountered, and we could also solve their questions in real time. Through personally conducting the experiments, they could be really engaged in the fascinating world of biotechnology, exploring the unexpected. Not only could they actually remember all of the contents they have personally experienced and improve on their basic lab skills, they could also develop their interest in synthetic biology, and possibly succeed at becoming an iGEMer in the future.
We hosted the STEAM Fair for our school and held a stand at the fair, introducing high school students to iGEM (details and more in Education). Similar to the Biotechnology Festival in the National Museum of Natural Science, we invited people to sit down and have a session on synthetic biology. Specifically for junior high students, we invited every class in our junior high department, with well over 200 students, to our lab and did a quick experiment while we introduced them to iGEM.
We have prepared a total of four small activities for students who came to participate in the experience: gel electrophoresis, fruit DNA extraction, DNA decoding, and plastid DNA extraction. Before the start of each small activity, we explained the principle of each activity and the relevant knowledge, and then guided them to do it. The students also asked many unexpected questions; while answering the questions, it also made us improve at the same time and learn more from different perspectives. Similar to the previous activity done with the junior high students, the specific iGEM training camp, the high school students were inspired by the experiments and how interesting synthetic biology is.
Of course, the board game was played after each session. What’s special about this event was that after holding this fair, we actually had new members joining the team! Two students reached out to us after the event, showing their willingness to participate in iGEM and they are now in our team as well. Slowly but surely, we are spreading what we love to everyone around us. (details and more in Education)
Up to this point, it has always been us giving out our knowledge, educating the next generation, people around us, and the public. It is now time to introduce how we’ve been educated along the past to gain sufficient knowledge for us to execute our experiment and other education projects.
With the end of the iGEM 2020 competition, which also symbolized that we of Mingdao iGEM in 2021 would have to inherit and continue the tradition and glory of the seniors. The principal often encouraged us: "Inheritance is the most beautiful scenery in Mingdao High School." On the last day of 2020, the seniors shared their projects and their experiences along the journey through a collective workshop with over 30 juniors attending. They talked about how iGEM has benefited them in different aspects and how much they’ve learned, inspiring us to know more about the competition. Through their experience sharing, they were able to inspire and recruit people who were interested in synthetic biology.
The seniors' inheritance to us didn’t stop at that inspirational workshop. They were always there to guide us when we encountered bottlenecks during experiments, they were just like our second teacher apart from Dr. Phil. When we needed someone for mental support, they were always there. We would never forget the reminders and precious advice from them!
We were also educated by Prof. Chih-Hsin Hung, Prof. Hung is a professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering of I-Shou University. He was kind enough to provide us with an opportunity for an interview and a visit. To begin with, we made a visit to their P2 laboratory, where the professor shared some skills about his past experiments with us. Later on, during the interview, we received lots of important information regarding phage, including where to extract phage and how to isolate phages against a specific bacterial strain in nature, which both of these helped a lot when we were getting the “main character” of our experiment. He even taught us the different kinds of phage and suggested that we use Salmonella Phage Lambda1105. He helped us build up a phage engineering system in our lab and guided us setting up standard protocols to deal with phages. Everything that he has given to us has been very essential to our project. We greatly thank him for his enthusiasm to educate high school students and his invaluable experience in phage research.
A biotechnology company in Taiwan called Genmont, a well-known biotechnology company in Taiwan that produces some of the famous yogurt drink’s bacteria, also came to our school to give us some insights on how biotechnology products are made and what the market looks like. At the beginning of the workshop, we first explained our preliminary ideas and concepts to Genmont. They also gave us some practical suggestions based on their own research and development experience. In addition, Genmont also introduced us to several of their own biotechnology products, specifically talking about the advantages, disadvantages and details of each product. Some members have also tried out their new products, giving us an opportunity to better grasp what qualifies as a good product in the market. We also learned about the regulatory restrictions, safety requirements, etc. After that experience, we recognized the unlimited business opportunities in the market, motivating us to strive for a high-quality product. (more on this workshop in Human Practices)
As mentioned in the Human Practices, The Food and Drug Administration of Taichung city granted us an opportunity to visit the national lab used for food safety tests. It gave our team new insights on how the industry operates, educating us once again from a brand new aspect. They also introduced us to all of the regulations on dairy products (since our targeted problem appears on multiple dairy foods), the microbiological hygiene standards, and the relevant microbiological detection products on the market, which helped us make sure that our product is applicable to the actual market. Through that conversation, we also found out that it turns out that they go to restaurants for inspections irregularly! Below are the specific things we’ve learned.
Specifically, what we learned was that if the bacterial strain on a dairy product is identified as suspected Salmonella-infected by the commercial biochemical kit, then an ontology group antiserum test and a flagellar serum test are required. If both are positive, it is judged to be Salmonella positive. That’s why it is needed for our product to be conducted in the lab for further testing for confirmation. Moreover, they’ve also demonstrated their experimental flow chart of methods of testing Salmonella in detail, giving us an opportunity to compare with how it differs from our approach. Not to our surprise, their method requires at least five days. The first four days are for bacteria enrichment, adding RV broth or TT broth for water-bath, adding XLD, BS and HE agar for culturing, and then for TSI and LIA agar slant culture-medium. This reassures the competitiveness of our product as our method seems to be faster and more effective. Having a chance to get a sneak peak in a national laboratory is once-in-a-lifetime, we really appreciate the Food and Drug Administration of Taichung for this opportunity.
Through countless events held with the general public, elementary school students, and high school students, it could be said that the process has so far been successful. From the responses we got, with students wanting to join us, with little children enjoying the process of the experiment and the board game, and with inspired adults asking us questions regarding the competition, we surely spread a lot of “synthetic biology seeds” in our society. Maybe it might not be enough, but at least we’ve tried and we do not regret the effort we’ve put in!
We greatly appreciate those who have educated us and gave us sufficient knowledge for our project to be executed properly. They have provided their help unselfishly, making us realize how iGEM is not only a biotechnology competition, it is also a competition where connections are built and help is constantly delivered.