iGEM x SDG Impact Challenge 2021

We were honoured to be a part of the iGEM x SDG Impact Challenge 2021 hosted byTAS_Taipei. The challenge started by inviting and nominating iGEM teams worldwide to incorporate the essence of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations into their project by fulfilling pre-determined tasks.

For NTU-Singapore, we strived to achieve Goal #3 and Goal #4 of the SDGs, specifically, Goals 3.3, 3.D and 4.5. Through these tasks, our team attempts to understand the plight of people suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic or late detection of cancer. Henceforth we need to muster the resources to develop a faster and more accessible testing method, pushing the population a step towards good health and wellbeing. Moreover, we also aim towards eliminating the disparities in education.

Goals and Tasks from NTU-Singapore

Goal 3.3: By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.

Goal 3.D: Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.

Goal 4.5: By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

Task 1 (3.3/3.D):

Put the team in contact with:

  1. People in developing countries who have been particularly affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic or;
  2. People who were unable to detect cancer in time and were diagnosed with cancer late.

Task 2 (4.5):

  • Distribute the educational website to at least 3 communities that have limited access to quality education.
Link to educational website

An essential part of the challenge was to fulfil the tasks provided by other teams. Our team succeeded in completing the tasks provided by CCU_Taiwan and Wageningen_UR 2021. More details of the tasks and how we completed them are provided below.

Goals and Tasks Completed by NTU-Singapore

Their Goals

Goal 3.5: Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol

Goal 4.5: By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

The task we completed for them

Share their educational picture book ‘The War on Germs’ to at least 10 people.

How we completed the task

We forwarded the book to some of our contacts, who gave feedback and told us they enjoyed it. In addition, to ensure that as many people could access the book as possible, we also shared the book on our Twitter account.

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Their Goals

Goal 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality

Goal 13.3: Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning

Goal 15.5: Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species

The task we completed for them

Share their short video about methane and ammonia from cattle to create awareness of the release of these harmful gasses and their impact on the planet.

How we completed the task

We shared the video on our Instagram story. We created a highlight for the video to remain viewable to anyone, even past the 24-hour mark. In addition, we have also shared the video on Twitter.

On 18 September 2021, the hosts organised a conference to provide an opportunity to all participating teams to demonstrate their contribution towards the challenge and, by extension, to the sustainable development goals. The virtual meeting was an excellent opportunity to network with other teams and served as a platform to better understand the different projects in synthetic biology led by the teams.

More than 20 teams joined this conference, divided into 4 breakout rooms to promote better interaction between team representatives. Each team took turns introducing their project, presenting their SDG, the tasks they have come up with for other teams, and what they have done to complete the other teams’ tasks. Our team started the presentation by introducing our team members and our project before moving on to the tasks we had for other teams. To end off, we shared how we helped other teams complete their tasks.

In conclusion, being a part of this symposium helped us and many teams worldwide better appreciate everyone’s effort in fulfilling the sustainable development goals. The conference opened dialogue between various teams and provided an opportunity to share the progress of project casCADE with other teams and be exposed to the execution of synthetic biology applications of other teams. We are grateful for this opportunity and are delighted to celebrate everyone’s success in taking a step forward and acting on achieving these goals.

We learnt about the projects and the problems that different communities faced around the world and were heartened to see how many teams were actively involved in taking a step forward to help achieve different aspects of the SDGs. Through this conference, the biggest takeaway was that no matter how small the step taken to achieve a goal, every step counts!

ASIJ Tokyo

We have done a Partnership with ASIJ Tokyo!

IISER-Kolkata: Namooste

We reached out to the Kolkata iGEM team to discuss potential collaboration opportunities. Both of our projects utilise CRISPR to detect diseases. The Kolkata team used Cas13 to detect bovine mastitis, an inflammatory response to an infection in the tissue of mammary glands. This is one of the common causes of poor milk quality and results in economic losses. We exchanged surveys for human practices and shared them with our contacts, and our team members did their survey as well. IISER-Kolkata was very helpful and provided us with contacts to interview regarding COVID-19. On our end, we tried to reach out to all of the dairy processing units in Singapore for an interview, but none of them got back to us.

Collab with IISER Kolkata

We are grateful for the help IISER-Kolkata has provided us with. We are also glad we learnt something new from their project sharing during our virtual meeting.

IISER-Berhampur: CODE M

We met with the IISER-Berhampur team on 23 August 2021. After our project sharing session, we identified some areas where the two teams could help each other. We shared our Cas12 sequence with the Berhampur team to determine if Cas12 or Cas14 was more suitable for their project. The IISER-Berhampur team provided us with contacts for our COVID-19 interviews. Both teams also helped each other to circulate surveys for human practices. On our end, we contacted some pulmonologists practising in Singapore. However, none of them got back to us.

Collab with IISERBPR

We are thankful for the help IISER-Berhampur has provided us with. We hope that by providing our Cas12 sequence, they could improve their project accordingly and find out which was the more effective method of detecting MDR-TB.

Thessaloniki-Greece: METIS

We connected with the Thessaloniki-Greece team and exchanged our team project ideas with them. The Thessaloniki-Greece team is developing METIS, a diagnostic tool used to detect pancreatic cancer via microRNA expression. They assisted us in sharing our surveys on their Instagram story in their community to have a broader range of perspectives through the responses given by people from all walks of life.

Logo of GXU

We have gained valuable insights by exchanging our project ideas with the GXU-China team and saw multiple aspects of collaboration. The GXU-China team uses CRISPR to alter the bacteriophage gene from a mild type to a more attacking kind of bacteriophage, which displays a higher efficiency in attacking the Tuberculosis bacteria. The bacteriophage will then be injected into the human body to attack the bacteria. Our aspects of collaboration include exchanging surveys for human practices.

Collab with GXU

We thank GXU-China for sharing their project with us, and we enjoyed meeting with their lovely team and having small talk with them! We are also grateful for the help they have provided for us.

National University of Singapore

We partnered with NUS too!

Kyoto: Flowerever

After learning that the Kyoto iGEM team also used CRISPR-Cas12a with RT-LAMP, we were interested in finding out more. We reached out to meet virtually with the Kyoto iGEM team for a project sharing session. During the meeting, they told us that their homemade reverse transcriptase could achieve similar results after testing on SARS-CoV-2 as those currently on the market. It was much cheaper as well! Their motivation behind this was to make it more accessible for their stakeholders to test for viruses and viroids that reduce the efficiency of cut flowers production. Overall, it was wonderful to meet up and exchange ideas with another team. We both gained significant insights from this meeting!

These viruses and viroids inhibit growth and cause dwarfing. The flower can no longer be sold and will be thrown away. As there is no known cure for these infections, the Kyoto team has decided to use CRISPR-Cas12a to identify and remove the affected strain before the symptoms develop.