Team:Stony Brook/Human Practices

iGEM SBU 2021

Navigating to Human Practices

Human Practices and Integrated Human Practices

Human Practices

Human practices in the iGEM context is best defined as the impact of a project on the rest of the world. To the 2021 Stony Brook iGEM Team, human practices are about educating the public, raising awareness on issues, and bringing our community together to find productive synthetic biology solutions. Having good human practices and subsequent success in implementation is what makes a project “good.” The most important aspect for iGEM projects is not inventing the next cure for a disease or detoxifying all water systems, it is to work together and harmonize a community to care about the issues around the world and understand what synthetic biology means.

This year's Stony Brook iGEM Project was chosen based on our community, as there is a lot of news regarding algal blooms and their dangers across Long Island and even our University pond. It is an issue that the people and government in our community care about and as such, they were a large influence on our project development. In turn, through human practice efforts such as fundraising, attending beach cleanups with local communities, talking to professors who are also working towards the same goal as ours, we were able to impact our community by educating them on our synthetic biology approach. For our team, a good project is just that, being able to impact not just our community but the world as a whole. We have held education events geared towards educating high school students in collaboration with IIser Pune and HKU. At this event, we held a seminar to Introduce synthetic biology, a talk on what iGEM is, a presentation on "Microbes in Society" and finally a “Guess the Scientist” game aimed to recognize and honor those who have advanced the field of synthetic and microbial biology. This was presented to children from several countries and left a global impact.

Although we are striving to leave positive feedback on the world, we cannot ignore the negative presumptions of our project. Many people around the world harbor mistrust when it comes to the genetic modification of organisms. For our project especially, many people may feel uncomfortable with the idea of a water-filtration system made of modified E. coli. For this reason, it is crucial to reach out to all groups and levels of the community, not just those who may agree with our ideas. It is important to hear from the general public and see in what ways we can adjust the mistrust and show the benefits of our project. To achieve this, teams must understand who their audience is and what their scientific background is. Effective communication can be achieved when the audience can confidently understand the topic we present to them and based on the audience, the level of information shared may change. To positively affect the international view of a topic, we must talk to as many people as possible (whether they agree with us or not) to educate them on our topic and welcome discourse. Both parties will learn a lot from each other.

A team can especially learn when discussing with a stakeholder. A stakeholder can be best defined as someone who is an expert in a field or has some economic or political power in the same field as our project. The Stony Brook team was able to speak to several scientific experts in the field of toxic algal blooms, membrane specialists, and engineers who work with water technology companies (Dr. Balazsi,Dr. Airola,Dr. Gergen,Dr. Goblerand Dr. Mao). Each conversation with these experts steered our project development as they pointed out issues with feasibility of our structures and provided valuable feedback on whether such a project would be desired in the real-world industry/companies/local communities. Although our team was successful in talking to experts and educating our local communities, we have yet to talk to other stakeholders such as government officials and corporations as it has been very difficult to reach them. Interaction with these stakeholders would provide us significant feedback on the desirability of this project from an economic and political sense, whether positive or negative. Thus, this is our team’s current goal for human practice, the most important aspect of the iGEM project.

Here are some of the other human practices activities we have done:

C-Step Presentation

We presented to a group of incoming freshmen students at Stony Brook University on what iGEM is, what we are doing this year, and how the students can get involved with iGEM or other research on campus. In the end, we also provided general tips for success on Campus. During the presentation, several faculty members and students were interested in iGEM. A recording of the presentation can be found on the iGEM Youtube channel.

Link to the presentation.

Biodiversity Symposium

We presented at the Biodiversity Symposium hosted by iGEM UNSW, alongside iGEM Groningen, iGEM USyd, and iGEM Kazakhstan. This was a great symposium where all teams learned about different aspects of how their project deals with Biodiversity. This symposium then allowed us to blossom into a deeper project collaboration and discussion with iGEM USyd.

Check out the Symposium's timeline.
Our proof of attendance.

Cyanobacteria Symposium

This was a 2-day symposium that we hosted in partnership with IISER-Pune-India, Hong_Kong_HKU, and Toulouse_INSA-UPS. On Day-1, several iGEM teams (including ourselves) with projects relating to Cyanobacteria presented our project to Cyanobacteria experts. The experts, from several countries, gave us critical feedback on our project which we used to further develop our project as part of integrated human practices. On Day 2, we invited speakers for a wiki-workshop, a talk on new research on Cyanobacteria followed by fun games to end the day. This event taught us to practice scientific communication at the level of scientists and we were able to get critical feedback on our project in terms of difficulty with membrane anchoring and our project method (such as how we plan to test our experiment).

Meeting Recording for Day 1 Access Passcode: #c$e0fzq
Meeting Recording for Day 2 Access Passcode: 08+0?7Ck

Integrated Human Practices

Our work on integrated human practices was already reflected in the last part (Phase 3) of our iGEMaton collaboration with UParis_BME. Thus, this reflection is listed below detailing our concept of integrated human practices, and why we believed this was achieved by our team:To the Stony Brook 2021 iGEM Team, Integrated Human Practices is defined as the interconnection between human practices and how that shapes a team’s project. It is how communication with different levels of people from one’s community can mold their project into a better version of itself. The purpose of integrated human practices is to get critical feedback from stakeholders and experts to increase the practicality and effectiveness of a design.

Integrative Human Practices have really shaped Stony Brook’s project from the very beginning. After joining iGEM, each of the 12 members proposed their own ideas for this year’s synthetic biology project. This ranged from therapeutics to biodegradation to energy and so on. From there, 3 project ideas were developed: PET degradation, MC-LR degradation, and therapeutics for Rheumatoid Arthritis. During this time, 3 subgroups of the iGEM team worked on developing their project ideas which were improved upon each weekly meeting where the teams presented their projects and received feedback from their peers and 2020 Stony Brook iGEM Team members. Eventually, the team as a whole voted on two of the project ideas, MC-LR degradation and treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis. These two ideas were presented to four Stony Brook professors who are advisors to the team. From their critical feedback on the feasibility of the projects and what must be improved for each, the team met as a whole and voted on one final project, the degradation of MC-LR.

This was the first stage of Integrated Human Practices. From then on, the team faced roadblocks during project development, especially for the design of the constructs. During this stage, advice and suggestions from past iGEM Team members (2020, 2019, and 2018), guidance from advisors. and critical feedback from experts in the field (mentioned during Phase One) were crucial to developing this project. Through suggestions and several revisions of the design, it was finalized that 3 constructs would be tested for the degradation of MC-LR: one for detection, one where the enzyme necessary for breaking down MC-LR (MlrA) would be anchored to the membrane, and one where MlrA would be expressed in the periplasm.

There was a lot of positive feedback, which also helped the team move forward with the project while exploring its effectiveness and proposed success in the real world. This was especially the case when the team participated in a local beach cleanup and met with the host, Relic Sustainability, who were very interested in the MC-LR project and its impact on the world. They gave lots of encouragement during the beginning stages of this project.

Meeting with Dr. John Peter Gergen (5/28/2021)

Though our team knew we wanted to produce E.coli that can express MlrA, we were unsure about how to implement this idea without retreading past ideas. Dr. Gergen suggested we anchor the enzyme on the outer membrane of E.coli. He told us to refer to Dr. Michael Airola and Dr. Steven Glynn, who are knowledgeable on heterogeneous protein expression and membrane anchoring.

Meeting with Dr. Christopher Gobler (June 1, 2021)

We met with Dr. Gobler because of his experience with lake decontamination and microcystin. He told us that implementing our E.coli in a biofilter or bioreactor is feasible. He also suggested that we use ELISA or a PP1 assay to E.coli and if it can degrade MC-LR. Lastly, he referred us to Dr. Xinwei Mao who had previously worked with water-tech companies and is knowledgeable in civil engineering.

Meeting with Dr. Michael Airola (June 3, 2021)

Our team was unsure if we wanted to anchor MlrA onto the outer membrane of E.coli by making a fusion protein with PgsA or if we wanted to secrete MlrA into the cytoplasm of E.coli by increasing TatExpress expression. Dr. Airola suggested we try both methods and test which method is most effective at degrading microcystin (MC-LR).

Meeting with Dr. Xinwei Mao (June 14, 2021)

Integrative Human Practices also greatly shaped the dry-lab aspect of this year’s project, especially in terms of the proposed design of a potential bioreactor. This was decided after meeting with Dr. Xinwei Mao, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Stony Brook University, who had previously worked with water-tech companies. Through her suggestion, the idea of a bioreactor won over membrane biofilms. She also suggested tips on the commercial usage of such a product which shaped further outreach of contacting water technology companies who would be interested in this project. This practice did not just provide critiques for further improvement, but it gave encouragement that this project was important and worth the hard work of the team.

Meeting with Dr. Gabor Balazsi and Dr. Steven Glynn (June 15, 2021)

We ultimately decided to design three E.coli constructs: an anchoring Construct, one for the TatExpress strain, and the detection system. We made a presentation about our project idea and our constructs so they could give us feedback afterward. The presentation included specific information about the plasmid designs for each construct. Both professors suggested that the inducible promoter for TatExpress should be chromosomally integrated since TatExpress is already a native gene in DH5-αE.coli. For the anchoring construct, it was suggested we express our PgsA-MlrA fusion protein in the E.coli strain BL-21(DE3) because of its ability to overexpress heterologous proteins. Lastly, they looked over our plasmids to correct any mistakes or errors.