Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.
The communication and interaction of society and science is an integral part of our mentality as a team and arguably one of the main aims of the iGEM competition. We have put a lot of effort to include all parts of our community to make an impact that will last. With our society’s education actions, we wanted to spread the word of iGEM as an excellent opportunity for young researchers to develop and perform their own projects in synthetic biology. We also wanted to inspire younger students and reach people that are not involved in the synthetic biology field. As fellow researchers, we felt it was our responsibility to engage with society and show first-hand, by introducing synthetic biology or our project, the reason we are doing this. Our main goal both as scientists and iGEM competitors is to engage everyday people with the field of synthetic biology and make science accessible to everyone.
We truly believe engagement with society is a primary goal of the iGEM project, a way to bring science and society together. Our main pursuit was to present our project to acclaimed experts, students and of course everyone else interested. In that way we could disseminate our project more effectively through the scientific world, engage the public and get valuable feedback.
One of the best ways to interact with the scientific community was to present our project in multiple events and conferences. Helmsic (Hellenic Medical student’s international committee) gave us a first chance to present our team and project to the world. It was a unique experience in a professional environment which provided us with the opportunity to optimize certain aspects of our project, get the public to know us and definitely have fun! They organized an event about Health and Research in order to give students the opportunity to familiarize with scientific literature and meet Researchers and teams that involved with scientific programs in order to broaden their horizons.
The Athens Science Festival, the festival devoted to Science and Innovation since 2014, is an established cultural landmark in the field of Science, Technology, Innovation and Art in Greece. Τhis seemed to be the ideal place to familiarize our project with society and people not only from the medical and synthetic biology field but also to every individual interested, regardless their field of interest οr age. Athens science festival is accessible to everyone, even to young students, and we were delighted to see people of all ages having access to our project’s presentation which is the most important pursuit of the Science communication.
The presentation of our project in the Scientific society of Hellenic medical students, was a great opportunity to present our project and demonstrate our work to the medical student community. It was a pleasure to share and discuss our ideas and therapeutical approaches with experts of the medical field as well as younger and future doctors. This approach could help them understand better the field of Pharmacogenomics, verifying its need and applications and establishing it into their future clinical practice.
We would like to ask the opinion of patients themselves as it was difficult to find patients to speak to. So, we decided to create an anonymous questionnaire in order to investigate and determine if the general public is familiar with the term “Pharmacogenomics” and to what extent. The results extracted show that a significant amount of the public is not aware of Pharmacogenomics and haven’t undergone a pharmacogenetic test even if there is a recommendation for the medicine they are taking. Most of the drugs they use fall into the categories of cardiovascular, psychiatric and oncological drugs as well as proton pump inhibitors, which show a significant amount of side effects. When asked if they would have such a test in the future, most of them answered positively. There were a few that weren’t sure mainly because they hadn’t met any doctor to recommend such an examination. Convincing doctors, the actual users of our device, appeared once again to be an issue to be dealt with. Through this process we aimed not only to understand the level of awareness for our field of study, but also familiarize both our project and the iGEM competition to the world.
We organized a joint event with the iGEM Thessaloniki team with the aim of presenting to the public the challenges and the opportunities of the iGEM competition. Our goal was to make the competition known to future researchers and IGEMers and help them understand the iGEM competition’s process. This event took place in Thessaloniki and it was open to the public. What's iGEM Competition? How can someone join a team? What are the steps that need to be followed until the Giant Jamboree? What problems iGEM Thessaloniki and iGEM Patras aim to solve through Synthetic Biology? These are only a few of the questions we tried to answer during our event" Through this event, our wet lab teams had the opportunity to raise our guest's awareness about synthetic biology by dispelling myths and misconceptions about it. After sharing our iGEM experiences, we noticed an increased interest in joining our next year's team. That was when we realized that our goal to inspire and motivate was accomplished.
*This event has been organized respecting all the greek COVID-19 guidelines.
Communicating our project to the public wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Because of the pandemic, we had to postpone or even cancel all our physical events. While examining our alternatives, we considered it efficient to publish articles about our innovative idea in media outlets. Thus, we wrote several articles about our team, our project, our wet lab, and dry lab experiments introducing the world of Synthetic Biology. Explaining complicated scientific terms such as Pharmacogenomics using simple words was a great challenge, but we are so glad that we made it. A very important part of the science communication process was the dissemination of the project. By contacting and collaborating with different organizations, we were able to broaden our audience and present Synthetic Biology and more specifically Pharmacogenomics to the world.
The chance of giving an interview on a radio station was definitely a challenging and fun experience. UP FM, the University of Patras’ official radio station, gave us the opportunity to talk about the applications of Synthetic Biology in everyday life, disseminate our project and get the public to know our team. Apart from that, we had the chance to familiarize the public and the University of Patras students with the iGEM competition.
We also achieved another goal; we made our Meetup as fun as possible. Science quizzes, games such as the game of "2 truths, 1 lie" and the challenge of creating an iGEM Meme were the only things we needed. were the only things we needed. Through these workshops, all participating teams learned more about synthetic biology, each country's culture, and the potential problems they may face as iGEMers.
Finally, all teams presented their projects and their teams. The "Mare Nostrum iGEM Meetup" outcome was amazing since we achieved another great goal; show everyone that science can unite nations!
In an effort to raise awareness of the iGEM competition and synthetic biology to the public, we also reached out to several media outlets. After corresponding with sites and newspapers, their reporters published our articles. This method definitely increased the visibility of our team and let people know about our project’s aim.
Bringing science and society together was one of our crucial goals. This is why we created the SynBio Academy a podcast series from our team. In these sessions we discussed the global synthetic biology iGEM Competition, the participating scientific projects, its social perspectives and experiences arising from it. The popularity of Podcasts has been magnified in the last couple of years. Well-conceived podcasts are an effective, portable, convenient, and intimate way to deliver and produce content and build ongoing relationships with your audience. The podcasts are easily accessible in the Spotify platform. Our guests, except for experts in synthetic biology, were also iGEM Alumni and iGEM teams not only from Greece but also from all over the world which definitely boosted our project’s visibility.
Trying to expand our audience and be known outside Greece, we conducted an interview with GeneScript. GeneScript is a well-recognised biotechnology company which is based on proprietary gene synthesis technology and know-hows on life-science research and application. Through this interview, we recorded a very informative video for GeneScript’s youtube channel in order everyone could watch it and learn more about project PGasus and its application. Don’t hesitate to see it and leave us comments!
For our team one of the most important goals is to make the science of pharmacogenomics known to young students and future scientists. For this purpose, we tried through different approaches to make our team’s project and the iGEM competition known to young people. Τhere is no greater joy than inspiring students to pursue their dreams and broaden their horizons, and this is perhaps our greatest aim as a team. We hope that by challenging their thoughts and encouraging them to begin thinking outside the box, they will be able to enrich the current level of researcher in the Synthetic Biology field.
Is there a better way to educate kids than playing board games and learning at the same time? We created two different board games in order to adjust them to the learning ability of different age groups of kids. The first one is phenomenally easier but much more fun and competitive. The second one is a bit more complicated but surprisingly easier to learn. The first is called "Gene Speed" and the second one is "Science Buster". "Gene Speed" is suitable for primary students. It helps them to understand the similarities and the differences in the world of biology through pictures. It is well known that students find it easier to absorb information through interactive activities and primarily through images. "Science Buster" was created for older students in order not only to test their knowledge regarding Synthetic Biology and Genetics but also prompt them to learn as much as possible about these scientific fields. These are exactly the games that fulfill our primary goal upon kids' inclusion in science; stimulate children's curiosity about the world of synthetic biology and encourage them to learn more about it.
You can find board game instructions here.
Our first idea was to create a Comic and share it with as many children as possible. As an iGEM team based in Greece, some of our activities were prepared in the Greek language, especially the Comic, as it was targeted for younger kids between the age of 5 to 12 years old, who do not speak any other language apart from their mother tongue. However, we have collaborated with other teams to translate our Comic into more languages and help more kids from all over the world to learn about Synthetic Biology and Pharmacogenomics. We have translated our Comic into German, French, Austrian, and Chinese. Moreover, we tried to make our comic accessible to blind people. Thus, we communicated with the National Federation for the Blind of Greece to make our Comic in Braille. This activity will allow them to get in touch with biology and get familiarized with the field of Pharmacogenomics from a young age, even for the visually impared member of our community.
The Comic "Mr Takis and Mr Smiley" (attached), created by iGEM Patras 2021, is a story of two dear friends who are experiencing uncomfortable situations due to a disease afflicts Mr. Takis and an incorrect adjustment of drug dosage. Thankfully, the story has a positive outcome thanks to a new comprehensive workflow for the identification & functional characterization of Pharmacogenomics variants adapted to a portable next-generation sequencing (NGS) system. Doctors use it as it detects various mutations and proposes the proper adjustment of drug dosage. It is important to say that the storytelling and the graphics for the comic were designed with the help of Georgia Paraskevopoulou, a professional educator, and Rosa Pavlidou, a primary school - kindergarten teacher. They helped us describe biology terms with words that children between 5 to 12 years old understand and spread pharmacogenomics and synthetic biology even at this age.
In order to educate people about synthetic biology and how it can be applied to real-life, we got in touch with the Experimental School of University of Patras and Tutorial school for secondary education “Κytaro”. We organized with iGEM Thessaloniki to collaborate and set up some interactive activities altogether about synthetic biology. Teaching students about synthetic biology and its applications was an unprecedented experience. We seized the opportunity to share our projects, proving that there is no need to be a researcher in professional labs to apply synthetic biology and its diagnostic tools in real life. Thus, we encouraged students to brainstorm independently and think of problems they would like to solve using synthetic biology. The results surprised both teams! It is a unique experience to organize such events with other iGEM Teams, despite the differences in our projects, and show people how essential collaboration is in general! It is significant to mention that the students were very interested and engaged in our sessions, throwing out countless amazing ideas and questions. We hope to have trigered their young minds and inspired them to join the next generation of IGEMers.
Alongside our partners and fellow team iGEM Thessaloniki, we made some pretty decent actions to include young people in the scientist's pathway. Our achievement is an online game called "Pathes SynBio adventures" designed on Scratch platform. We created two main characters who embark on a Synthetic Biology journey together. Along their way, they find different questions which they have to answer with various movements. At the end, the two main characters have to answer a number of questions using their acquired knowledge. Both Dry Lab subteams cooperated for the programming of the game. We worked together to find the best questions to get the students' attention and provide them with some helpful knowledge while keeping it fun. Pathes' SynBio Adventures was designed for Junior High School students, but it can provide a valuable source of entertainment for all ages. There is no better way to help a youngster enjoy a learning process than adventure based learning. Learning by doing or even better… learning by playing!
You can read more about the Scratch game by the Manual we created.
Our game is displayed on our wiki page with iframes; this form of display was licensed by the iGEM HQ Committee and specifically by Dr. Traci Haddock-Angelli and therefore does not violate any of the iGEM Wiki Rules. You can also find the source code of our game on iGEM GitHub Repository.