Team:Wageningen UR/Education

iGEM Wageningen 2021


Group Photo

Education is of vital importance to develop and implement synthetic biology solutions together with society. Through education we generate understanding and acceptance, thereby advancing technological solutions in an inclusive way and bridging the gap between science and society. We achieved this by reaching people of all ages. To inspire the next generation of synthetic biologists, we organized a Junior Science Lab for primary school children, visited high schools and gave several guest lectures at our own university. Moreover, we gave an open presentation to everybody at the public library in Wageningen to further strengthen our societal impact.

Primary School

Junior Science Lab

“When I grow up, I want to become a scientist too!” ~ Kees, 10 years old

To reach some of the youngest minds in our society, we organized a Junior Science Lab (JSL) for local primary school children. We contacted the Science Hub from Wageningen University & Research (WUR), which develops science afternoons for children from the age of 9-12 years in collaboration with scientists. Together, we organized this event to provide the children with the experience of how it is to be a scientist. Twenty-five children from local primary schools joined our Junior Science Lab, called ‘Solving cow farts and burps’. From the moment of their arrival, their enthusiasm skyrocketed and they bombarded us with questions about the activities of the day. It was an afternoon filled with lectures about DNA, bacteria, synthetic biology and our project Cattlelyst. The children put their newly gained knowledge into practice by performing various experiments. They visualized their own DNA from their saliva, looked closely at microorganisms through a microscope, and we introduced them to environmental bacteria by letting these grow on agar plates.

 Sophie, Sophieke and Sanne ready to begin the Junior Science Lab!
After the first introductions, Sanne started the lecture by explaining what DNA is and what it is for. This was followed by the first practical, in which the children got to isolate their own DNA from saliva. With a simple protocol using only soap, salt, water and ethanol, they got to visualize their own DNA in a tube.
Sanne and kids
Sanne pointing out what DNA looks like.
With the basic knowledge on DNA provided, the afternoon continued with a lecture about what you can do with this DNA. Sophie talked about how you can cut and paste DNA and whole genes using synthetic biology, which can be applied to cure diseases, for example. We took it to the next level by explaining what bacteria are and how we can use synthetic biology to manipulate bacteria.

To let the children experience the diverse world of microorganisms, we sent various types of agar plates to their homes before the JSL, so they could grow their own microbes. Some plates they could leave open in- or outside their house on which microorganisms from the air could grow. Other plates could be used to see how many microbes are actually on their hands and on objects that they own. They brought the plates with them to the JSL and we studied them together.
Sanne and kids
 The junior scientists studying their agar plates.
The last part of the lecture was about how Cattlelyst uses bacteria and synthetic biology to create a solution for the harmful ammonia and methane gasses originating from cattle stalls. Sophieke explained what the environmental drawbacks are and how we are engineering bacteria that can neutralize them. The children were very interested in hearing how their newly acquired knowledge of the day could be applied in solving these kinds of societal problems.
Sanne and kids
 Sophieke presenting our project and showing how we used bacteria and synthetic biology.

Overall, it was a challenge to translate the knowledge we have about synthetic biology into a language suitable for children and to design simple yet exciting experiments. We hope we have inspired them to become scientists as well and consider a career in synthetic biology. It was a very fun day and we highly encourage other teams to organize similar events. In order to do so, we have written a guide on how to set up a Junior Science Lab, containing helpful instructions and tips.

Curious? Click here to read more about our guide

High School

We were invited to give two information workshops at high schools for 16- to 18-year-old students. These students were following a curriculum specializing in biological and technical sciences and are very likely to continue their studies in this field. The workshops were made to enthuse the students and they perceived it as a very informative and interactive way to get familiar with synthetic biology. Often this was their first contact with the subject, so we touched upon a broader context. Riemer explained some basic but interesting techniques of our field, such as PCR and CRISPR-Cas. The students showed great interest and instantly wondered how PCR reactions are used in the COVID-19 pandemic and if people could be genetically modified using CRISPR-Cas.

Riemer at high school
Riemer explaining synthetic biology to high school students.

After providing the students with the basics of synthetic biology, we told them about iGEM and how the competition can be a more hands-on way of learning. This was followed by a presentation of our project in which our design and methods were discussed. This showed the students the amount of work and thought that goes into a project of substantial size, something they were very impressed by.


We gave several guest lectures at courses of WUR to students of different backgrounds, study programs and ages.

  • Lecture at BSc course Responsibility and Reflection in Molecular Life Sciences (1)

    All third year BSc students of the program Molecular Life Sciences at WUR follow the course ‘Responsibility and Reflection in Molecular Life Sciences’. This course challenges them to think about ethical aspects of their studies and introduces them to the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). As iGEM embodies these values, we were invited to give a guest lecture at the course. We explained to them what iGEM is, and what an iGEM project entails; much more than just science.

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    To start, the societal background of our project was explained in detail by Morris. Awareness was created about the problems of the Dutch farmers, the nitrogen crisis and the effects of methane gases. After explaining the more technical side and the science behind Cattlelyst, Sophie focused on what human practices and outreach mean in our project. How do our stakeholders shape the requirements of the solution we develop? And why is that so important? The students showed great interest and asked questions about the four pillars of RRI (anticipation, reflexivity, inclusion and responsiveness) and how we incorporated these into our project. They also had a lot of input on the technical side of our project, such as upscaling of the biofilter, how much work it would require for the farmer to maintain, and how to communicate the safety of genetically modified organisms to the farmers. All this newly acquired information was used to shape our human practices even more.

    Morris and Sophie, MS Teas screenshot
     Morris and Sophie presenting our Human Practices work in the BSc course Responsibility and Reflection in Molecular Life Sciences.
  • Lecture at BSc course Responsibility and Reflection in Molecular Life Sciences (2)

    Approaching the end of our own iGEM project, we came back once more to the same BSc course on Responsibility and Reflection in Molecular Life Sciences. By this time, we had learned a lot more on the topic of RRI ourselves during our Human Practices and Communication efforts, so we were able to go more in depth with these themes.

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    Riemer and Sophie talked about the societal context of our project and how this shaped the development of our technical solution. We explained how some of the questions we got from stakeholders and other students were directly incorporated into our project, such as in the safety system. As most of our human practices work was finished, we discussed on how each of the four pillars of RRI (anticipation, reflexivity, inclusion and responsiveness) was incorporated into our project, for instance by organizing the junior science lab or the inter-stakeholder meeting.

    The students were very interested in hearing about a real-life case of incorporating ethical considerations into science. Aside from technical questions about our biofilter design, they inspired us to think more about how our project impacts the future of the livestock sector and whether we are sustaining the current system this way. In return, we hope to have inspired them to integrate RRI in their future projects.

    Riemer and Sophie in real life lecture
     Riemer and Sophie, ready to present Cattlelyst to the BSc students.
  • Lecture at BSc course Systems and Synthetic Biology

    We were invited by Prof. Vitor Martins dos Santos to present our iGEM project in the final stages of development to students following the BSc course Systems and Synthetic Biology, which provides an introduction to synthetic biology. Emphasizing the importance of intertwining modelling and wet-lab experiments is one of the main objectives of this course, thus an iGEM project is the perfect example of how this can be achieved.

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    Ten motivated students had chosen this course because of their interest in synthetic biology, which provided a great opportunity for us to convince them to participate in iGEM next year. Sophieke introduced the iGEM competition and discussed with the students how they can combine it with their studies. After this, the project was presented by Sanne. Extra detail was given on how the models of Jenny, Anemoon, and Sanne were incorporated in the project and how they influenced the wet-lab experiments. The students loved seeing how synthetic biology can tackle problems so close to home and were looking forward to the next iGEM kickoff meeting at WUR.

    Sanne and Sophieke in real life lecture
     Getting the students excited about iGEM!
  • Lecture at BSc/MSc course About Building Cells

    We presented our project to students participating in the synthetic biology course ‘About Building Cells’, for students of the BSc Minor in Nanobiotechnology and the MSc in Molecular Life Sciences at WUR. This course stimulates students to think about how to build a cell from the bottom up. Our guest lecture provided a different perspective on synthetic biology by showing the top down approach of our project.

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    After telling the students about the societal problems which led to Cattlelyst, Sophieke explained how synthetic biology was applied to create a solution. They were very enthusiastic about the fact that we are tackling such a local and currently pressing problem of which they also experienced the consequences. At the end of our talk, a lively discussion took place with all the students. We debated about the openness of the cattle stalls, the fate of our bacteria when the cows go outside, and why we aimed to construct a synthetic methanotroph.

    Having sparked their interest for iGEM and synthetic biology, we concluded our lecture by encouraging their participation in the iGEM Wageningen team in the coming years. The students seemed very driven to take up the challenge!

    Sophieke presenting the societal background of the project
    Sophieke presenting the societal background of the project.
  • Lecture and stakeholder simulation at MSc course Dilemmas in Food Safety and Security

    Our human practices team was invited by Dr. Zoë Robaey as guests in the course Dilemmas in Food Safety and Security. This course touches upon themes such as Responsible Research and Innovation, for which iGEM projects are perfect case studies. We took the opportunity to give a guest lecture to the MSc students of the program Plant Biotechnology following this course. To let the students experience the responsible innovation developmental process, we organized a stakeholder simulation exercise. This resulted in spirited discussions between the students, from which valuable outcomes could be incorporated in our Human Practices work .

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    Sophieke started by introducing the structure and values of the iGEM competition and explained to the students that iGEM is not only science, but also engaging with the public and creating awareness on the project. To help the audience understand the big picture around Cattlelyst, both the environmental problems caused by the emissions of methane and ammonia and the societal consequences of the measures put in place to reduce these emissions were explained by Deli and Sanne. Only after this, our solution along with its design and the implemented safety system were presented.

    To involve the class in our responsible innovation development process, we organized an exercise to simulate a stakeholder meeting. This was inspired by a teaching tool inviting students to role play different stakeholders of Cattlelyst. The purpose of the simulation was to find conflicts and synergies between different stakeholders while defending their interests.

    Sophie presenting our project
     Sophie presenting our solution to the students.

    It was a very positive experience for both us and the students. The students had “on point” questions on our design, which led to lively discussions about what would happen if the cows would go outside and who would finance the innovation. In addition, it surprised us how well the activity worked out in an online environment. All the students were engaged and participating enthusiastically. They impersonated their role very well, trying to put themselves in the shoes of the stakeholder. The outcomes of this stakeholder simulation also helped us to take our human practices work to the next level. To help future teams achieve this as well, we prepared a guide on how to set up a stakeholder simulation.

    Curious? Click here to read more about our guide
  • Lecture at MSc course Advanced Systems Biology

    To promote the importance of modeling in synthetic biology, Jenny and Sanne were invited by Dr. Robert Smith to present their modeling experience in the Advanced Systems Biology course. MSc students from the program Bioinformatics are taught to model chemical reaction networks, biochemical kinetics, analysis of dynamic models, metabolic networks and gene regulatory networks. Our guest lecture shed light on not only the way to build different dynamic models, but also the pragmatism needed throughout the development of such models.

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    Being iGEM ambassadors, we started the lecture by speaking about iGEM. This was followed by an in-depth explanation about our project, given by Jenny. The students were enthusiastic to hear about iGEM in general, and one student immediately showed interest in joining next year’s team. Moreover, they were very excited hearing about our project, and the complexity of the problems we are trying to solve.

    In the second part of the lecture, Sanne shared her ‘hands-on’ knowledge on building a model. Most students in modeling courses enter the modeling world with the idea that modeling biological systems is straightforward (Sanne, Jenny and Anemoon included). Yet, conceptualizing biology, finding appropriate data and perfecting model optimization, will require some insights. The general workflow of Sanne’s project was therefore the core of the presentation. The students’ interest was sparked when hearing about the potential of Sanne’s model, and modeling in general. We concluded our lecture with a philosophical discussion, during which we reassured the students that a model doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful, something we learned by building models ourselves.

    Jenny presenting our project
    Jenny presenting our iGEM project in the MSc course Advanced Systems Biology.


The general public is often concerned about the safety of GMOs. That is why it is crucial to educate and include them in discussions about safety measures. We gave a lecture in the public library of Wageningen to do this. This lecture was open to everyone and we talked about how we incorporate safety aspects of the GMOs in our biofilter. After an introduction about what GMOs are, the three safety measures of our project were explained. This was done in an easy way for everyone to understand, by making use of cooking analogies. DNA was a recipe book to which we add and/or remove new recipes and auxotrophy was explained as sharing ingredients between cooks to be able to bake a cake. Afterward, during the discussion, various interesting questions arose. For example, they wondered what harm our GMOs could do if they still managed to escape the biofilter despite our implemented safety measures. In general, the audience was very enthusiastic about the project and our presentation and we experienced how helpful it is for the general public to explain everything with simple clear analogies. We believe that the general public is much more open to GMO usage if they have the chance to participate in the scientific debate to discuss all their safety concerns.

Jenny presenting our project
 Riemer talking about the importance of safe containment of GMOs.
About Cattlelyst

Cattlelyst is the name of the iGEM 2021 WUR team. Our name is a mix of 1) our loyal furry friends, cattle, and 2) catalyst, which is something that increases the rate of a reaction. We are developing “the something” that converts the detrimental gaseous emissions of cattle, hence our name Cattlelyst.

Are you curious about our journey? We have written about our adventures in our blog, which you can find here: