Team:TU Kaiserslautern/Education


We all love listening to podcasts and as they are becoming more and more popular, this was one of the first ideas we thought of when thinking about how to communicate science. Since we are a German team, we decided to keep the podcast in German and reach a more local community. To make the podcast educational but also entertaining, we decided to have two speakers, Nicolas and Benjamin, talking about different topics. Our 13 episodes include basic explanations of genetic engineering, the origin of life, climate change, clean meat, and of course our very own iGEM project. We even had Daniela from iGEM Nawi Graz as a guest and talked about our individual experiences as iGEMers and learned about their very interesting project PHOS4US.

Listen for yourself in our podcast "GENOMgenommen".

In addition to our own podcast, we were also invited to the university podcast "TUK to go", where we were able to introduce our team, the iGEM competition itself and our project to a large audience at our university.

School Presentations

A very important age group we want to reach out to are the young people who in a few years will be able to make a difference. To contribute to this change we wanted to talk to them about their views on genetic engineering. What better place could there be for that than at the schools where we graduated from. Each team member contacted their school and asked for an opportunity to come by and discuss genetic engineering. In addition to the trip to our hometowns, we wanted to reach out to students in our surrounding area, so we also visited a local school.

Our goal was to spread awareness and to motivate them to think about some ethical issues on controversial topics. First, we gave a short presentation on general genetics to give a brief introduction, so that the students could participate in the following discussion.

We expected that we would have to initiate the discussion since they had never really been exposed to these types of questions. But to our surprise, the students did not need any help at all to start the conversation. In some cases we were even forced to end the discussion due to time pressure.
The students even surprised us with different views on a lot of questions. We are used to talking about those things in our group, but we all have a more scientific view around this topic, so it was refreshing and very interesting to hear the student’s opinions.
In the following we want to introduce a few questions that we asked the students to better understand what our discussion consisted of.

Should Crispr-Cas be allowed for the creation of "designer babies"?

We had defined “designer babies” to mean altering physical traits in the forefront. Here we heard almost solely negative answers. Most of the children were against altering the physical aspects of babies to please the parents, mostly out of fear that the individualism and diversity in our society would fade away. On the other hand, we also discussed that science was far away from pinpointing the origin of personality and even with equalizing the whole population's external appearance, would not be able to kill individualism. Another interesting contribution of a student was that if he manipulated the DNA of his child, he could not consider it as his biological child anymore.

Is it reasonable to edit the genome of human embryos to treat genetic diseases?

The first question seemed easy compared to this one. There was a visible indecisiveness among the students. The difficulty to draw the line between what could be considered a disease and what not was also present. One student pointed out that if this would exclusively become accessible for wealthy people, this would not only widen the gap between rich and poor even more, but there is a possibility that those who couldn’t afford this, will be considered and treated as people with disabilities are treated now.

Should de-extinctions projects be funded and supported?

The term de-extinction can be interpreted in two different ways. The first one, which probably comes instinctively to mind and brings flashbacks of the film Jurassic Park, is trying to get dinosaurs or other extinct species back to life. Most students were against it because they thought science had more important tasks. Besides, they were not seeing advantages in it, neither for the new animal brought to life to probably end up in a zoo, nor for us humans who would probably end up making a weapon out of it.
The second meaning de-extinction could have is to deal with the development of climate change and the environmental changes it brings along. Many native species face changes they do not have the time to adapt to. One possibility to save them could be to relocate those species into a better environment. One student commented that we should not even begin to consider this, because this method would be abused by humans as an excuse to continue exploiting the resources of the earth.
All in all we had lots of fun but also learned a lot from these discussions with the students, and we hope they did too.

German Meetup

This year a lot of events could not take place because of COVID-19. But we did not want to miss out on the opportunity to exchange our experiences between different iGEM teams, so we organized an online German Meetup in collaboration with iGEM Bonn. In total the following eight teams were present on that day:

After a short introduction on who we are and how the evening will take place, we created four different breakout rooms, in which every participant could choose to go, approaching the following topics:

  • Sugars of the future – the biotechnological production of healthy sugar substitutes
  • Ethical issues in Biotechnology & Animal experiments
  • Collaboration: opportunities, ideas and discussion on how to deal with the COVID-19 regulations
  • Sponsoring tips and tricks

Sugars of the future – the biotechnological production of healthy sugar substitutes

In the first room, Marcel, a master student from the University of Bonn, held a presentation with the title “sugars of the future”. Everyone knows the most common sugar substitutes which by now are integrated into our everyday life, but Marcel talked to us about the innovation in this field and about new sugar substitutes that in near future will probably replace the now known sugar substitutes.

Ethical issues in Biotechnology & Animal experiments

In this room we tried to engage in a conversation about controversial topics. We wanted to get more insight on how other students that through iGEM already had the chance to think about genetically modified organisms think about certain issues. To get an idea on how the discussion went, we will present a few of them.

Is it acceptable to make a genetically modified pig that would produce medicine in its milk? (It would not have to die.)
Is it acceptable to make a genetically modified pig to grow organs for humans?

The point where everyone agreed was that if we would start doing something like that, we would have to ensure the way the animals are kept is not cruel like currently in most cases.

The group that agreed argued that we already farmed animals to eat them, and that farming them for medical reasons was ethically more acceptable than using them as a food source which would not be necessary in many parts of the world.

The ones against it said that by using animals for our medical purposes, we would put human life above the life of another animal, and that we were not in the position to do something like that.

What are the ethical issues of prenatal diagnosis?

A few people pointed out that the majority of parents could abort a child with a not life threatening genetic dysfunction, even if it was not life threatening but rather difficult to integrate into the mainstream society. One student took the example of deaf people and argued that if you asked them if they would rather not be deaf, they would presumably say no because for them, being deaf could be a distinct form of culture with having their own language and living through the same difficulties and experiences together. He noted that not their inability to hear but the society not adjusting to their needs was the problem.
By using prenatal diagnosis like this, a lot of the differences and the diversity in this community would disappear.

With that comes the question: where do you draw the line?

Collaboration: opportunities, ideas and discussion on how to deal with the COVID-19 regulations

At first we talked about the situations of the iGEM teams that were present. Who was allowed to work in the lab, how many people the team had and what their projects were. After that we exchanged our ideas on how to optimize the situation, where a few new ideas inspired the teams.

Sponsoring tips and tricks

In this room we had help from former team members of the iGEM team Kaiserslautern 2019 who went through all the difficulties and brought their knowledge to this room. We came up with this idea, because some iGEM teams reached out to us and asked for help regarding sponsoring. Our advisors Doro and Adrian explained the general procedure in detail and left room to answer questions. The most severe problem seemed to be teams getting many rejections from a lot of companies. Our tip was to show up even more professional, to create a sponsoring brochure with all the details, and a list of all the offered conditions. We told them that it could also be more beneficial to call companies rather than writing an email, because they could easily be read over and having real conversations would always be more interesting than reading a long text. We also talked about Crowdfunding, which may be an option for teams which have a project which has a big effect on the public, and teams that have the time a crowdfunding project needs. In general we all learned very much that day and we, as the experts of this room, could also get some useful tips for our sponsoring team.

Science Slam

To bring science from every field closer to our community in an entertaining way, we organized, in collaboration with iGEM Bonn, an online Science Slam. We not only wanted to moderate a talk where different scientists present their current work, but rather in a more enjoyable setting. We hosted our Science Slam via twitch and were able to gather 180 viewers for it.

This was only possible due to our amazing slammers including Anastasia August who explained to us why polar bears are the best example for thermal storage, Sven Krumke, who in a mathematical context explained to us why we are still single. Matthias Mader explained the functionality of a laser spectroscope while Lorenz Adlung surprised us with a rap about inflammatory properties of fat and Johannes Schildgen explained how the algorithm of Amazon works and how it could be improved. The winner of our evening was David Spencer who told us about his work with plant biotechnology.

During the event we were able to collect 80€ of donations, which the winner donated to NABU Kaiserslautern and NABU Bonn. At this point we want to thank all our participants again, without you this great event would not have been possible.

Junior university

We had the opportunity to hold a talk at the University event for children. During our talk, about 60 children were present. The children were between eight and twelve years old so we explained the basics of genetics and genetic modifications in an easy and understandable way. Our goal was to introduce them a little bit to what DNA is, and what it means to change it. The event being online did not keep the children from asking questions. They were really invested and asked important questions that we gladly clarified. To share this experience, here are a few of their good questions:

  • Does water have DNA?
  • Are there people without DNA?
  • Do animals have the same DNA as humans?
  • Do all bananas have the same DNA?
  • Can you also isolate DNA from dead people?
  • Can you also isolate DNA from dinos?
  • Can DNA from animals also be inserted into humans so that they have wings?
  • Do smaller animals have fewer chromosomes than larger ones?
  • What happens when a chromosome is missing?
  • How much DNA do you have from your grandparents?

In addition to our presentation, we also prepared an experiment, where we talked the kids through on how they can isolate DNA from a banana. The ingredient list was sent out in advance, so all the kids could participate, unfortunately the kids were not allowed to use their cameras so it was a bit difficult to help them with their problems and not everyone was able to isolate the DNA but they still had a lot of fun with it.

Escape Room

With the help of other iGEM teams, we organized a playful way to learn more about the competition, our projects and us. One game that fitted best to our expectations was an interactive escape room on google forms with different riddles from each team. The iGEM teams from Aachen, Bonn and Düsseldorf helped create every room and invented different puzzles.

Our part includes a hidden word you can guess through finding the right glycosylation pattern of a protein, a crossword puzzle about our project and the competition, and - to visualize what is happening in an eppi whilst our MoClo reaction - a riddle where you have to assemble successive parts from our vector in the correct order with the help of matching overhangs that we also used for our parts list.

Try it for yourself and help the teams get to the Giant Jamboree by solving exciting mysteries! (Google is allowed.)

Introduction stream

To present the iGEM competition and our project to a broad variety of people, we decided to host a stream via twitch. We wanted all viewers to understand our project and therefore held a very basic presentation which gave a quick overview about it.

In addition to our project presentation we also wanted to, in a fun way, explain the components of the iGEM competition to our audience. Therefore we had thought of the most important components and our game master, Julia, then gave each person one of the terms which one had to explain to all the others without using the too obvious explanations. The stream was held in German, but here are some translated examples of the terms we explained and the words that were not allowed to mention while trying to explain:

  • Giant Jamboree
    • Finale
    • Boston/Paris
    • Jury
  • Sponsoring
    • money
    • companies
    • contact
  • Genetic engineering
    • change
    • CrisprCas
    • DNA
  • Human practices
    • public
    • presentations
    • educate

Sustainability week

Every year the Sustainability group of our General Student Committee helps to organize a Sustainability week in Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland where different topics of sustainability are discussed. At the end of 2020 we were invited to talk about genetic engineering, since climate change already is and in the future will be a threat to global food provision. In our presentation, Bastian explained who we are and what is and since it was only the beginning of the new iGEM season he also encouraged more people to join our team or the team of their own local university.

The second part of our presentation was about genetic engineering. We explained some basics and talked about the different applications. We also showed the projects of the two previous teams of TU Kaiserslautern. After the introduction and the overview we also talked about the advantages and the risks of genetic engineering, which was the perfect end to our talk since it encouraged people to have a heated discussion about the topic. We got a lot of input from this discussion but also realized that this topic is more complex than we expected and needs more education among the population to show everyone how big the advantages can be and if handled correctly how much they outweigh the risks.

STEM fair

The Zukunftsregion Westpfalz e.V. as one of our sponsors invited us to be part of the STEM fair (in german: MINT Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaften, Technik). The fair was 2 days and gave us the opportunity to present our project to a broad community. On the first day mainly teachers came to visit the fair and were thrilled to learn about recent scientific research projects like our own. Apart from this we also prepared microscopic slides of human tissues. Each one in a healthy version and one pathological version. The most popular slide was the lung tissue where everyone was able to tell the difference. We also prepared a memory game, with different glycosylation patterns. The memory was pretty hard but we and the kids had a lot of fun with it.

Photos by Reiner Voss