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SynBio101 Summer Camp

SynBio101: Summer Camp was a week-long summer short course aimed at teaching high school students fundamental concepts in developmental and synthetic biology. This was approached using a small class setting with close instructor-student mentorship. Throughout the week the students attended interactive lectures, hands-on lab sections, and professional development workshops. As everything shifted when SARS-CoV-2 spread out and caused the renowned pandemic, this year, SynBio101 was celebrated virtually.


➜Increased understanding of concepts of general biology

➜Explain what is synthetic biology and demonstrate the different ways Synthetic Biology can be used

➜Stimulate their curiosity by giving them the tools to create a new and innovative prototype and presenting it at the end of the camp

➜Express creativity using manual representations of concepts

Preparations & Activities

An application process was conducted in which over 120 high school students presented their interest in the camp and their future aspirations. The original plan was to host 80 students, but since there were no physical limitations by doing it virtually and we received more responses than expected, we were able to host 97 students. By doing so we were able to reach and impact more students from different backgrounds and all of the Island.

As part of the objectives, we wanted to make the experiences as interactive as possible. They were given packages that included the materials necessary for various hands-on activities. To deliver these, the iGEM RUM-UPRM team members met with the students in municipalities across the Island, taking into consideration safety measures due to the pandemic.

Week Activities


After months of preparation, there was time to receive 98 high schoolers from all around the island. Excited by the camp, although it was virtual, the young students took a diagnostic test, where they answered basic questions about synthetic biology and biological sciences. Thanks to the test, we were able to measure the knowledge that the students had before taking the conferences and practical experience in the camp. Right after the test was important to create a connection between students and us since we were working for the whole week. With this in mind the first bonding activity was held, a presentation game between the students and the staff who worked. Followed by a workshop of different growing mediums and their uses offered by IGEM members. The knowledge obtained during the workshop was further used in a Petri dish exposition activity where the students observed drawing patterns of the contaminant area at their house. It should be noted that the Petri dishes were prepared and handed out to the students before the camp began. We also taught during the workshop how to take a sample and how to properly close and discard the plate.

The main conference of the day was held by our mentor Dr. Carlos Ríos Velázquez after lunch. During his conference, SYNBIO 101, explained synthetic biology basics and how to create a genetic circuit. As a dynamic, legos were used for the creation of various examples of circuits; these to practice for when it will be up to the students to prepare their prototype. What was learned during the day was measured with a review using Kahoot. The day ends with the discussion of the rubric to be used for the presentation that they will have to make at the end of the week on the creation of their genetic circuit.


On this second day the students started receiving a continuation of the last conference, where, on this occasion, IGEM members spoke of the genetic circuit and how to generate a prototype. Once the basics concepts were learned, it was important to start looking for information and literature about the problem they wanted to solve. With this in mind, Scientific literature, primary and secondary digital resources, and its parts workshop was given by Laressa Acevedo.

Then, a Lab Security presentation was made using hypothetical cases as well as a simulation of lab security. After that, the students participated in DNA extraction of a strawberry, held by our mentor Dr. Patricia Ortiz Bermúdez. Also, the students were able to create their genetic circuit with the basic parts given in a scavenger hunt interactive activity. Finalizing the day, the students were separated into breakout rooms with their respective groups to meet their leader and teammates, with whom they would present their final project on the last day of the summer camp.

Strawberry DNA Extraction Manual


On the third day of the camp, the students participated in a STEAM-related workshop where they learned about basic biology applications. They constructed a virus using origami models and created their bacteria, using craft materials that were provided; relying on a basic dictionary with the parts needed to create them.

Later it was offered a Lab Theory and simulator where students received the basic laboratory techniques and the cloning plan and then were divided to realize cannulation of electrophoresis run in the laboratory. After lunch, the students received a workshop on bioinformatics and its basic uses. A public speaking workshop was then presented for them to be able to make basic interactions with the public. The day was then finalized with the students dividing into their respective groups to continue working on their final presentation.


On the fourth day we featured Dr. Lorenzo Saliceti, Chemical engineer & professor of the Chemical Engineering Department, who gave a conference about bioreactors. Students were able to learn the theory and history of bioreactors, the process of how they are made, and the common uses in the workspace and scientific research. Then we gave space to Sol Rosado, Agronomist in the private sector, to present the main objectives of the Puerto Rico Agricultural Biotechnology Industry Association (PRABIA). During the conference, Rosado exposed the benefits that Agricultural Biotechnology has, as well as the impact on the economy of Puerto Rico.

After these two workshops, the students were separated into their groups to continue coordinating their final presentation. After that, Gabriela Otero gave a virtual workshop on Bioethics. Here the students learned about the importance of bioethics and presented their postures on a “debate” exercise Gabriela Otero did. Its uses were presented with hypothetical cases to debate between themselves. Subsequently, the students participated in a Benchling workshop using the platform given by our vice president Luis Garcia. The students then received a Resume Workshop in which they could learn the basic steps to create a resume and all its components. The day was finalized with the presentation of the Petri dishes that were exposed at the start of the camp and some of the growth was discussed.


The last day was composed of the invited IGEM team’s presentations. The first presentation was of IGEM RUM where our team exposed and explained our future goals. Then we received teams from the area of Latin America (LATAM) where they presented their project and the students could learn other synthetic biology applications.

After the presentations, we were divided to make final touches to the final presentation of a circuit. For the students to leave with a laughable experience, the SYNBIO awards were presented where students receive awards in different categories. This ranged from the sleepy one, the music one to the gamer one, or the creative one. Following up they receive an intensive workshop on networking and personal statements presented by Lead UP and directed by Yashira Valentin. Before concluding the day and the week-long camp, the students received a post quiz to know how the camp influenced or helped their understanding of synthetic biology.


The last interaction the students had all together was the presentation day. Each student had to talk for at least 3 minutes of a part of the worked presentation. In this time span, the students presented a created hypothetical genetic circuit to resolve or treat a problem. Some of these were bioremediation ones and others even treated food problems. Finalizing the presentation with a peer review from Dr. Carlos Ríos Velázquez. The parents of the students were able to come and share this experience with their children, as well as see all the effort that their children have made during the week.

SynBIO101 Statistics

SynBio Week 2021

For a week our SynBio Week 2021 , we were educating the college and high school community about what synthetic biology is, who we are, and what we do. As everything shifted when SARS-CoV-2 spread out and caused the renowned pandemic, this year, SynBio Week was celebrated virtually during October 11-15, 2021. More than 100 students were impacted at each conference. /p>

Week Activities

➜ Proclaim

One of the main objectives of IGEM-RUM, as an interdisciplinary team, is to promote the knowledge and investigation of this non-traditional area known as Synthetic Biology. We are able to make this possible through one of our main events known as the Synthetic Biology Week. This week we offer the opportunity to learn from this emerging science. Our team met with the chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico - Mayagüez Campus, Agustín Rullán Toro, and with our mentoring professors, Dr. Carlos Ríos Velázquez, and Dr. Patricia Ortiz Bermúdez through a virtual meeting, to make official the reading of the proclamation of the Third Edition of the Synthetic Biology Week. In this meeting, the proclamation was signed and represented the start of the activities.

➜ SynBio101: Fundamentals of Synthetic Biology

The opening activity of the Synthetic Biology week was held on October 11 in the afternoon, the workshop was given by our mentor Dr. Carlos Rios Velazquez, and it was called SynBio 101: Fundamentals of Synthetic Biology. This activity was offered to our university colleagues where more than 180 students participated, here we had students from different departments. Dr. Rios offered an introduction to basic concepts of this emergent science and all the applications and uses it may have. All the students present got the opportunity to learn about the diversity of applications of Synthetic Biology and the interdisciplinary field in which synthetic biology is, including engineering, computer science, and biology. It introduced the synthetic biology open language (SBOL) and how it is used in the scientific field, how a prototype can be created, reading genes, and more. Also, it explained the history of IGEM RUM and how the team has evolved in the past years. This was a really enriching meeting for all the students present in this activity where they had the opportunity to learn about synthetic biology.

➜ Basic Sign Language Workshop: The Alphabet and Key Words

As part of our synthetic biology week, we invited the American Sign Language Student Organization (ASLSO) from the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla, to give a workshop about the inclusion of sign language. Approximately 100 students from our campus and different institutions participated in this activity. During this workshop, ASLSO talked about the deaf community, how the students could approach a deaf person in a proper manner and how they could contribute to inclusivity. At the end of this activity, the students were able to learn the alphabet and some keywords in sign language and ASLSO answered many questions related to some concepts in sign language. Many students were interested in learning American Sign Language (ASL) but did not know where to start. This workshop was an efficient way for these students to take the initiative to learn sign language and learn about inclusivity.

➜ Sign Language Workshop (ASL): Synthetic Biology

In this activity, we invited Dianna Laracuente, a professional interpreter, and educator, to give us a Basic Sign Language Workshop (ASL) more focused on biological terms. Here, Dianna discussed several ways to sign words that would be commonly used in a biological aspect. Words such as biology, genetic engineering, gene, bacteria, and many others were discussed. After most of their basic concepts were discussed, the students had the opportunity to practice small sentences and present them to all the attending class and the teacher. At the end of the workshop, the students and the professor remained to discuss other common topics like the importance of expression and how to address different situations. This workshop reminds us of the importance of being inclusive in every aspect as we can. As an interdisciplinary research team, it is crucial for us to include the majority of the population and provide a learning environment for everyone. This is why we strive to create equally diverse learning opportunities for those that for certain reasons find themselves at a disadvantage.

➜ “10 years in IGEM” with an IGEM LATAM Ambassador”

For our third day of the synthetic biology week, we received Heber Torres. He is one of the LATAM ambassadors. In this conference, the participants learned how IGEM has become a part of the daily routine for a participant. Mr. Torres started in IGEM as a competing student and now he is an ambassador after 10 years of working with and for IGEM. He expressed his whole trajectory in IGEM and how it has changed his life. In addition, he encouraged the participants present in the meeting to join IGEM since this is a life-changing experience which everyone in the research field should have. He has participated and competed in IGEM as a student, mentor, and ambassador. He explained the projects which he had developed and the awards he had received over the years. Here he expressed that he learned not only of synthetic biology but also how it affects everyone as time passes by. This meeting provided students a new perspective about synthetic biology and research.

➜ “Vieques: A Social and Environmental Crisis.”

As part of our 3rd week of synthetic biology, we decided to dedicate a day to the reason that motivates us to investigate, Vieques. For us, it is of the utmost importance to educate the student and general community about what happened in Vieques, so we turned to Lic. Adrián González Costa. Gonzalez serves as an environmental advisor and is in charge of everything that happens on the island municipality of Vieques. As a protestant and environmental advocate, Gonzalez knows what happened in Vieques. With this in mind, he was invited to present the conference Vieques: A Social and Environmental Crisis. In the presence of 120 people, which included high school students, university students, and the community in general, he presented a historical background of Vieques, the arrival and departure of the Navy, and the current problems. Using the latest report from the United States Government Accountability Office, which he gave us access to, as a reference, he tells us how current decontamination methods are working. The decontamination process is expected to continue until the mid-2030s to eliminate the 94,000 active bombs in Vieques. Unfortunately, current decontamination methods (bomb blasting without a chamber that contains the explosion), Gonzalez tells us, "is resurrecting 60 years of the bombing today". Both, the team as well as the participants can learn more about the situation. The audience was delighted with the conference, as we can see in the comments:

➜“An important and educational conference about the social and environmental crisis that is taking place on the island of Vieques.

➜“Excellent presentation. The situation in Vieques is long overdue to resolve; the Viequenses deserve more.

➜“The best conference I have attended all semester.

➜“The Making of IGEM-RUM: Who We Are and What We Do”

To culminate our SynBio Week, we shared IGEM RUM-UPRM’s journey since its foundation, achievements, and our current project. Our team President, Marieli, started the conference with the presentation of our team, including undergraduate students, graduate advisors, and co-principal investigators. Afterwards, Marieli presented the important historical background of Vieques and the introduction of the problem we look to solve in our project. To provide information about the solution we propose, the biology team leader Valeria presented our genetic circuit and expected results. Additionally, Valeria shared a preview of the team’s day-to-day activities in the lab, shown using pictures, videos, and samples from our laboratory notebook. To continue discussing the project as a whole, engineering team member Claudia introduced bioreactors and how ours was designed. Finally, the social impact leader Jennifer shared all of our team’s initiatives towards education, community outreach, and how it has impacted our project. At the end of the presentation, we extended the invitation to all undergraduate students present to follow our journey and encourage them to apply to join our team for the following cycle. One of our PI’s also invited students to enroll in our university’s new Synthetic Biology course. It is important to us to share what we do as a team and motivate others to see synthetic biology as an alternative to solve problems in our local communities. The feedback from our audience was positive. Some comments below:

➜“I learned so much, your team’s work is inspiring.

High School Science Fair

Science is a powerful weapon that can do well in good hands. As scientists, we must instruct and cultivate, in the next generations, the seeds of curiosity and observation. Precisely in April, we held the first edition of our Science Fair for high school students. Understanding the danger of the pandemic, we decided to execute the virtual modality fair to ensure and safeguard the participants' health. A group of 20 high school students from all over the island embarked with us on a new adventure. Through friendly competition, the students developed their research posters for a month. To help them along the way, we offered a series of tree workshops for both professional and personal growth. Team members made presentations about scientific methodology and how to prepare a scientific poster and present a scientific poster of research. It was found that the students' curiosity was incredible, and we know that the future of science is being developed in good hands.

Among the topics presented by the students were:

➜ZOOM fatigue and its effect on the attention of students taking virtual classes.

➜Use of reflective geometric patterns for water heating.

➜Use the "See back effect" for the conversion of environmental heat into energy.

➜The development and use of a prototype instrument to detect positively charged particles from cosmic rays.

The latter being the winning theme of the friendly competition.

High School Interns Program

After celebrating the Science Fair for High School Students this past March, three high school students were selected as winners and were awarded an internship in the iGEM-RUM team. During eight weeks, the students rotated through the different divisions of our iGEM team: the directive board, biology, engineering, and social impact team. After rotating with each division for a week, they learned the objectives and contributions of each team to iGEM RUM’s main project. During the first two weeks, the three high school students attended weekly meetings along with the social impact team members in which they had the opportunity to experience what it is like to be a member of this team. They were also given presentations on synthetic biology and how they could apply it to real-life problems in a thoughtful way with the world.

Subsequently, each intern was able to identify a real-life problem and a possible solution by applying their knowledge in synthetic biology, which they discussed and analyzed with their peers. They were also able to create an educational flyer about our main project and its objectives. In addition, they also created a poster about an activity of their choice that could help solve any environmental problem and could be categorized as a Human Practices work.

As an interdisciplinary team, it is important for us to analyze what adjustments we can make to create a better experience for future iGEM high school interns. We realized that the fact that the whole interaction was online made some activities less interactive. The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected our interactions with the members of our team and with outside resources that make part of our project as well. Hence, we are hopeful for our future interns that in-person interaction can be made, making their experience more impactful and realistic. Although their intern positions lasted 8 weeks and were completely virtual, we are confident that after their rotation with the Social Impact team ended they learned the importance of human practices; how our project affects the world, and how the world affects our project itself. We also realized that there is much more creativity out there that can be put into work, and we aspire to keep creating a more creative and innovative IGEM community.

ßßß Zeta Alpha Chapter Synthetic Biology Workshop

Our team made a partnership with the National Honor Society of Biology of UPRM to present a synthetic biology workshop for students of the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades of the Borinquen Bilingual School in Aguadilla. All together, learning techniques were provided for students which were multiple interactive activities. For example, arts, and crafts were incorporated to deeply explain the different applications and what is of synthetic biology. The workshops lasted an hour and a half, and during this time we also interacted with the students answering questions and helping them with the activities. To give these activities, we used the manual of SynBio For Everyone which provided the background information for the workshops that took place with the students.

For the sixth-grade students, we gave a workshop called “Engineer an Organism”, in which we explained the meanings of genes, DNA, and synthetic biology. Once those terms and concepts were explained, the interactive activities took place. For the first activity, the students had to create their bacteria, keeping in mind the parts that were provided for them. They had to choose a color and accessories for their bacteria, as well as a primary function or purpose. After they finished creating their bacteria, they explained to the rest of the students the bacteria’s design, its hypothetical mechanism, and function. In addition, they participated in an interactive activity with the help of “Kahoot”, which was an interactive evaluating method that helped us evaluate how well the students understood the concepts.

For the seventh grade, the workshop given was “Chameleon genetics”. The purpose of this activity was to inform students, for example, about the basic concepts of genetics: alleles, homozygotes, heterozygotes, and many more essentials. In addition, multiple interactive activities took place, such as, creating their chameleon while applying the concepts of dominant and recessive alleles, and for choosing these alleles they would have had to toss a coin to see which allele their chameleon would have for each characteristic. Also, an interactive evaluating method was done using the platform “Kahoot”.

For the eighth-grade students, the workshop that was given was the “DNA Gumdrop”. This activity consisted of teaching students about DNA’s structure. Among the activities prepared for the students, for a better understanding of the concepts, were an informative video, a trivia game to ensure comprehension, and the creation of a DNA prototype using candy. The purpose of these activities was to teach students, in a fun and easy way, the importance, and applications of synthetic biology while helping them further understand how DNA works.

CROEM Seminar

Our team visited Centro Residencial de Oportunidades Educativas en Mayaguez (CROEM) which is a residential school focused on the scientific and mathematical enrichment of their students. It is a high school from ninth to twelfth grade but overall students graduate at the eleventh grade because they fulfill graduation requirements as they are allowed to take up to twelve classes per semester. Since the start of COVID-19, we were unable to visit schools in person and give them educational talks about synthetic biology. This was a special opportunity since we could give an in-person presentation about what iGEM is, who we are as a team, and our project. Because of the measures taken by the school, some students were in person and the other students listened through an online platform.

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