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For the education portion of our project, we decided to hold a weekend course for students in their last year of high school, giving them a chance to experience the life of a biology student doing iGEM. In Switzerland, high schools are not very involved in helping students find their career path. Because of this, deciding on a subject to study was difficult for many of the members on our team. We therefore wanted to give students considering Biology a chance to see a fascinating facet of the field, and an insight on potential career options stemming from this degree.

Planning the event

The main goal was to give the students a chance to experience working in a lab, as well as an idea of the day-to-day of a biologist. Using our iGEM experiments on the antifreeze proteins as a base, we designed a protocol for them to follow over one weekend.

When designing our experimental protocol, we called in a student from the desired target audience to test out his abilities in the lab and his knowledge in biology. We explained the experiments and assessed the time and amount of indications needed for him to complete them. We also discussed basics in microbiology to test his prior knowledge. It was important to us that the weekend challenge the students, but that we allocate enough time for explaining and doing the manipulations properly. With this trial run, we were able to estimate the time necessary for the students to perform the experiments and adapt our presentation of the biological concepts to their previous knowledge in biology.

The content of the event

We first needed to provide the students with the information necessary to understand the experiments they were performing. We started the weekend by explaining the basics in microbiology – bacterial growth and genomes, antibiotic selection, protein expression and much more. This presentation was followed with a lively discussion on the potential uses of bacteria. We then explained the concepts of synthetic biology, using our project as the main example. We focused especially on the AFP portion of our project, as it is the easiest to understand and was the basis of the experiments we had planned for them. We also explained the practical portion of the weekend, going into detail on the mechanisms behind performing a miniprep, a PCR, a Gibson assembly etc.

After explaining the experiments theoretically, we moved on to the highlight of the weekend – lab work. Each of our five students was assigned an iGEM member for one-on-one tutoring on how to do the manipulations best. We made two groups of students with similar activities for each group to maximize the manipulation time for each student. It was important to us that our students be constantly intellectually stimulated and performing various lab work, so teaching only a small group was a necessity for us.

The lab work performed during the weekend is summarized in the following table:

Day 1
Time Group 1 Group 2
10am Plasmid Digestion PCR Amplification of AFP Gene
11am Gel Preparation Gel Preparation
1pm Digestion Product Gel PCR Product Gel
2pm Digestion Product Purification PCR Product Amplification
3pm Gibson Assembly Gibson Assembly
5pm Miniprep Miniprep
Day 2
10am Transformation Transformation
11am Spectrophotometer Spectrophotometer
12am Plating Plating
2pm Liquid Culture Inoculation Liquid Culture Inoculation

A successful miniprep
Filling a spectrophotometer cuvette in sterile conditions
Practicing the loading of a gel
Learning how to work in sterile conditions
Learning to use a nanodrop
Teaching the process behind a Gibson assembly
Demonstrating the inoculation of a liquid culture
Learning to use a spectrophotometer

Collaboration with Éprouvette

During this education project, we worked in collaboration with the Eprouvette, our University’s Science and Society Lab, that aims to provide learning activities to the citizens of our region. The Eprouvette helped us organize the logistics of such an activity on the university campus and posted ads in their newsletter as well as a sign-up form on their website. The activities organized by this lab focus on the social implications of science, so we decided to add a conversation on the impacts of GMOs on today’s society to our program. The expert viewpoints gathered during our podcast collaboration on GMOs allowed us to guide the students in their discussion and add well-rounded opinions to the conversation. To see how their thoughts evolved, we gave them a question sheet about GMOs at the beginning of the weekend, and then had them fill another one at the end. We saw their opinions and understanding on the subject mature greatly.

The Eprouvette was thrilled with this collaboration and wishes to continue holding synthetic biology events with the future iGEM teams of our university. At the end of the weekend, we also had our students fill out a question sheet to give us feedback on the event. The feedback shows that this event gave the students a better idea of the work of a biologist and showed their excitement at the discovery of synthetic biology.

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