SulFind 2021

Education SulFind 2021


The following work presented is submitted for both the Education special award and the Communication gold medal criterion.

In our education and communication work we spoke with local highschool students about synthetic biology and discussed the uses and implications of the emerging technology. In addition, we engaged with the Norwegian aquaculture sector concerning the possible applications of synthetic biology within the sector. We developed the learning activity Build-A-Bac to allow students an intuitive and hands-on introduction to genetic engineering of bacteria, and used the game at Researcher’s night, and a school visit. Furthermore, we attended AquaNor, the world's largest aquaculture exhibition, and received publicity in several Norwegian aquaculture newspapers. We also reached out to the public by posting regular updates regarding our project through our social media platforms.


Build-A-Bac is an interactive learning activity designed to give students a hands-on introduction to the world of genetic engineering: how molecular tools may be used to cut apart DNA, ligate the DNA together to form plasmids, and transform bacteria using the plasmids, thus resulting in changed characteristics in the bacteria.

Build-A-Bac is aimed towards Norwegian first and second year highschool students, who have had some genetics in science class and are familiar with genes, DNA, bacteria, but who are not particularly familiar with the concepts of synthetic biology or genetic engineering.

Build-A-Bac is meant to illustrate that bacteria may be engineered by taking up plasmids, circular packets of DNA, and that these plasmids may be created by combining genes of interest. The game includes 3D-printed gene pieces that are designed so that four pieces fit together to form a circle, representing a plasmid. The students can then build their own plasmid with four genes to engineer their bacteria, giving it traits that will help it thrive in a given environment.

Note: The word “gene” is in this setting being used in its broadest definition, meaning a hereditary unit that is responsible for one characteristic. This was done to better explain the concept of genetic engineering to students who are unfamiliar with the concept of genes.

Many of the characteristics being denoted a “gene” in Build-A-Bac would in reality be encoded by multitudes of genes.

A detailed explanation of Build-A-Bac follows:


  • a board with a picture of a bacterium on it
  • 12 gene pieces of different colours and patterns
  • a legend describing the characteristics of each gene
  • environment cards
  • one iGEM’er ready to spread knowledge about plasmids and genetic engineering


Figure 1: Image of board set up.

How to play:

  1. The students are given the board with “their bacteria”, which they must engineer to survive in a given environment.
  2. 2-3 environment cards are drawn and placed on the board. These cards represent the environment the bacterium must survive in.
    1. e.g. If the CO2 and fire cards are drawn, this bacteria needs to survive an environment that is very hot, and has an abundance of CO2
  3. The iGEM’er presents genetic engineering of bacteria through plasmids: Since we are scientists at our lab, we can use the genetic parts we have available and put them together to form a circular DNA package, a plasmid, giving our bacteria new abilities.
  4. The students discuss the best combination of four genes to use in their plasmids.
  5. Discuss the finished plasmid with the students. What characteristics does the bacteria get from this plasmid? Were all the requirements to the environment met? Does the bacteria have a source of energy? What other genes have the students decided on and why?

Materials to make your own Build-A-Bac are translated to English and possible to download from here.

Researchers Night

We had an exhibition stand at Researchers Night at NTNU in september. Researchers Night is a part of the “Researchers in Europe 2005” initiative, and is an annuala annualyearly event at NTNU, with the purpose of bringing research and the general public closer together through “edutainment” - activities that increase the public’s knowledge of research. The event is mostly attended by highschool students, and is a platform for promoting careers within research among young people[1].

At the stand we spoke with highschool students and teachers about biotechnology, the field of synthetic biology, and how we had applied synthetic biology with our work on our iGEM project. Many of the students were interested in pursuing an education within science, and wanted to learn more about the applications of synthetic biology.

At the stand we invited students to engineer their own bacteria using the SulFind original game Build-A-Bac. Before beginning the activity, students were informed that when working with GMMs, safety precautions must be taken, and were invited to put on lab coats, glasses, and gloves. This both provided the students with a fun photo opportunity and increased the immersiveness of the experience, while also putting the spotlight on the importance of biosafety, and ended up opening for discussion concerning biosafety and biosecurity, as well as current Norwegian GMO regulations. In addition to this we had several interesting discussions with students concerning the choice of “genes” in their engineered bacteria. E.g. some students argued that an abundance of CO2 can make an aquatic environment acidic, so that a gene facilitating growth in low pH might benefit the bacteria, or that a metal-detecting gene might be best combined with a gene that allowed the bacteria to reduce metals.

We received feedback from students that the Build-A-Bac activity was engaging and informative, and many students wanted to learn more about how a bacterium may be genetically modified, and how modified bacteria are safely handled, after playing the game.


Figure 2: A student playing Build-A-Bac at our stand at Researcher’s night.

Visit at Thora Storm High School

In September, we also visited students in the entrepreneurship course at local high school Thora Storm vgs, and led one of their science classes. The students were to commence a module on biotechnology later in the school year, and we were invited to give an introduction to the world of DNA and synthetic biology. The students were in the midst of brainstorming ideas for their “youth businesses'', a part of the entrepreneurship course. We therefore also spoke about iGEM, and gave some insight into how we decided on solving the H2S problem in RAS after speaking to industry stakeholders (more on this can be read on our human practises wiki-page).

The class began with a presentation held by our team members, where DNA and synthetic biology was presented through the examples of organisms and products that are made using synthetic biology approaches. The class was then divided into smaller groups, and each of our team members guided the students through a learning activity pertaining to synthetic biology.

The first activity was for students to “engineer” their own bacteria in the Build-A-Bac game. In the second activity the students extracted DNA from kiwi fruits using dish soap and rubbing alcohol (the protocol being used, as well as talking points during the procedure, is detailed further down). During the activities we had meaningful conversations with the students concerning applications of synthetic biology, and what possible ramifications might come to be if the technology is not controlled. The current GMO laws in Norway, and wherever they are fair or too restrictive, were also discussed by the students. In addition, students were interested in the opportunities in the aquaculture sector, and some students had even considered using synthetic biology for their youth businesses!

We received feedback from the class that our presentation and activities were engaging and informative, and provided a good introduction to the modules on biotechnology and on the Norwegian aquaculture industry that the class would be starting later during the school year.


Figure 3: Presenting ourselves to highschool students at Thora Storm vgs.

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Figure 4: Students with the Build-A-Bac game on the left, and students extracting DNA from kiwi fruits on the right.

Extraction of DNA from kiwi fruits

Protocol adapted from[2]

Materials (per group performing an extraction):

  • 0.5 kiwi
  • 2 beakers (250 ml)
  • 1 measuring cylinder (100 ml)
  • knife and cutting board
  • fork
  • paper clips
  • coffee filter
  • funnel
  • dish soap
  • NaCl
  • water
  • water bath (60-70 degrees celsius)
  • cold rubbing alcohol


  1. Peel and cut the kiwi into small pieces (this was done by the iGEM team members)
  2. In one of the beakers, crush the kiwi pieces with a fork.
  3. In the other beaker, combine 1 tsp salt, 100 ml water, and 1 tbsp dish soap. Stir gently to combine, so that bubbles do not form.
  4. Combine the crushed kiwi and extraction buffer and place in the water bath for 10 minutes.
  5. Run the kiwi and extraction buffer through a coffee filter into the measuring cylinder, until it is half full.
  6. Pour cold rubbing alcohol into the measuring cylinder at an angle, so that the two liquids do not combine.
  7. After a short moment, a gel-like layer will form between the kiwi extract and the alcohol phases. This layer contains DNA. Use paperclips to lift out the gel from the cylinder.

Media outreach

We were interviewed by three Norwegian newspapers for the aquaculture sector :,, and kyst og fjord. In the interviews our team members spoke about our project, iGEM, and how synthetic biology can be used to find solutions to problems within the industry, as in the case with biosensors.


Figure 5: The article at, and in the bottom part our article shows up on the "most read" thread.


Figure 6: Article at


Figure 7: Article in Kyst og Fjord.


Several of our team members participated in the AquaNor conference at the exhibition stand for NTNU Oceans. AquaNor is the world's largest aquaculture technology exhibition[3], and is an important meeting place for presentation and discussion of innovation within the sector. NTNU defines NTNU Oceans as “one of NTNU's four strategic research areas, addressing complex challenges of great importance for society through interdisciplinary cooperation. Through its research and outreach activities, NTNU Oceans contributes to Norway’s role as a maritime nation.” [4].

At the stand, our team members were able to engage with aquaculture projects and companies, and discuss the potential of synthetic biology within the aquaculture sector. Several of the industry stakeholders we had reached out with our human practice work, as well as several of our sponsors, were in attendance.

Our attendance at the AquaNor conference also resulted in an invitation to the Brohode conference, an invitationala invitational only conference in October concerning innovation in the Norwegian fishing sector.


Figure 8: Our team members at the NTNU Oceans stand at AquaNor. Photo: Per Henning/NTNU

Social media

We posted updates about our work, and about synthetic biology, on our social media platforms on instagram, facebook, twitter, and linkedin. Especially important, we got the chance to have a takeover at one of NTNU’s instagrams, regarding science-related studies for a day. We used the takeover to spread knowledge of our project, iGEM and synthetic biology in general.


[1] NTNU. Hva er Researchers' Night? Retrieved 30.09.2021 from:

[2] Newton. Ekstraksjon av DNA fra kiwi. Retrieved 23.09.2021 from:

[3] AquaNor. About the fair Retrieved 01.10.2021 from:

[4] NTNU. NTNU Oceans Retrieved 01.10.2021 from: