An integral part of iGEM has been communicating science to the general public. Especially nowadays, an effective and engaging dialogue is important. The main three areas of our team's educational efforts included synthetic biology, wastewater treatment and pharma disposal. Our target audience varied from primary school children to stakeholders in the field of biotechnology. We have organized workshops, participated in seminars and symposia, as well as developed an antimicrobial resistance awareness campaign and an informative mobile game.
SEMINARS AND SYMPOSIA
Synthetic Biology Course
Synthetic Biology course at Aalto University aims to familiarize students with the field and to show various approaches that utilize synthetic biology to introduce improvements. We had the pleasure of hosting one lecture, where we talked about what iGEM is and what are its goals. We also shared the goal of our project and talked about our experience and difficulties we came across while designing a genetically engineered tool “from scratch”. We also asked for feedback on our project, suggestions for improving the project, what idea they would have for such a competition and much more.
IBISBA 6th-Month Consortium Meeting
IBISBA (The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation and Synthetic Biology Accelerator) aims to, in their own words, ‘support and accelerate the uptake of industrial biotechnology as a key enabling technology for advanced manufacturing’. We had a pleasure of presenting and discussing our project to professionals from both academia and industry, who are working in the field of biotechnology, as well as answering questions regarding SINISENS and synthetic biology in general. Other attending iGEM teams were Wageningen UR 2019 and Paris 2020.
Presentation at iGEM Symposium: Global Goals using Synthetic Biology
In August we had another opportunity to present our work: we participated in the Global Goals Symposium organized by Leiden iGEM team. The idea behind the event was to present how our teams decided to tackle different issues using synthetic biology. Along with us there were two other iGEM teams presenting their projects: the FCB-UANL team from Mexico, who attempt to produce an eco-friendly substitute of the traditional foam used to put down fires, as well as the Rochester team (a.k.a. Team UteRus) from the USA, who is trying to make finding biomarkers for endometriosis easier. We were very happy to have a discussion regarding our project and the effect it may have on the world.
As with most issues, the best solutions are the ones tackling it at its source. When it comes to the presence of pharmaceuticals in water, as we learnt during our meeting with Paula Lindell from Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority, it is also the result of improper disposal and usage. As is usually the case, prevention is better than the cure: the best solution to the problem would be preventing pharmaceuticals from ending up in wastewater in the first place. After meeting the Indian iGEM team IISER Pune, our attention was also brought to the differences in regulations regarding pharma disposal in different countries and that this information is not always easily accessible. For that reason, we have created an interactive map containing information on official guidelines for drug disposal around the world.
Return pharmaceutical waste to a pharmacy or municipal disposal point. Remove the pharmaceuticals from their original package and pack them in a transparent bag. Return cytotoxic drugs in their original package in a seperate container. Needles and syringes should be seperated from the pharmaceutical waste and returned in a seperate container.
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a pharmacy or a municipal disposal point. The pharmaceuticals should be removed from original packaging and returned in a transparent bag. Needles and syringes should be separated and returned in a special container.
Swedish Medical Products Agency
Many drug disposal programs in the community are the best option. Otherwise, almost all medications can be disposed of in your household trash can, but consumers should take the precautions outlined below. A small number of medications can be especially harmful if taken by someone other than the person for whom the medication was prescribed. Many of these drugs have specific disposal instructions on their labeling or package insert (leaflet) to be emptied immediately down the sink or toilet when they are no longer needed. Follow all disposal instructions on the medicine label or in the patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medications down the toilet or sink unless this information is specifically stated. Take advantage of community “drug disposal” programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call local law enforcement agencies to see if they sponsor drug disposal programs in your community. Contact your city or county government household waste and recycling offices to find out if there is a drug waste program in your community. Transfer unused medications to collectors registered with the Federal Anti-Narcotics Agency (DEA). Authorized sites can be stores, hospitals or clinical pharmacies, and places where the law is exercised. Some programs offer mail-in disposal or have drop-boxes. Every year the Federal Anti-Drug Agency (DEA, in English), carries out in Puerto Rico a collection of expired, unused or not required medications in homes. This is done due to the lack of a central protocol to follow, she indicated, while emphasizing that this measure corrects that deficiency. More info through the links below.
Poison Help Puerto Rico
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to the pharmacy. Place the pharmaceutical waste in a bag. Needles and syringes can't be returned to the pharmacy, but should be disposed of in the trash inside a container.
Post-consumer plans for expired drugs include mechanisms that must meet technical and safety
requirements to ensure that waste is handled safely and properly. Some options are: (1) safe
containers installed in drugstores, IPS or institutions, (2) direct collection by the
supplier of the medicines (in-hospital case) and (3) home collection of waste in the same
vehicles that distribute the product.
To deliver the waste of medicines included in post-consumption, the following must be taken into account: (1) collect expired medications, packages and boxes, vials and vials in a sturdy bag, (2) check that bottles and containers containing liquids are tightly closed, (3) partially destroy labels and marks to prevent counterfeiting, (4) check that post-consumer waste is not mixed with other waste, especially those that cannot be delivered to collection points, (5) review the list of plans presented and the contact details, so that you previously verify where an authorized collection point is installed, (6) deposit the waste in the container, verifying that it passes through the protection system to prevent it from being extracted and subsequently falsified, (7) if the bag in which you transported the waste contains liquids or solids related to medicines, also deposit the bag, otherwise you can deposit it in a container for plastic waste that can be recycled.
Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Republic of Colombia
In Uruguay there is a plan for the safe elimination of waste from post-consumer Medicine Containers, implemented by the pharmaceutical laboratories affiliated with the Association of National Laboratories of Uruguay (ALN) and the Chamber of Pharmaceutical Specialties of Uruguay (CEFA), in compliance with all the established requirements in decree 260/007 regarding the management of packaging. According to this, when a drug expires at home, the inhabitants must take it to a pharmacy. the laboratory chambers have a destruction program called Plesem and managed by the Farmared company, which collects expired medication, as well as drug containers and waste, and drives them to the furnaces set up for incineration.
El País, newspaper
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a pharmacy or to some other drug take back site instructed by the municipal. Pharmaceuticals should be returned in their original container. Needles and syringes should be removed separately in a special container.The Association of Danish Pharmacies
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a pharmacy or drug take back site. The service is free of charge. The pharmaceuticals should be returned in their original packaging.
State Agency of Medicines
Reducing these dangers is the goal of a new alliance between Red Punto Seguro and Ecoins®. Now people will be able to deliver expired or leftover medications at Punto Seguro reception centers and will receive 25 ecoins®, which can be exchanged for discount coupons on products and services enrolled in the program. These reception points are located in different pharmacies.
Punto Seguro Costa Rica
Pharmaceutical waste can and should in most areas be thrown in household trash, since the trash will be incinerated in most parts of Germany. Some pharmacies in specified areas accept returnal of pharmaceuticals and some municipalities also arrange drug take back sites. Pharmaceuticals should never be flushed down the drain or toilet. For more specific information visit the site below.
Drug disposal done right!
Drugs should be disposed in special containers located in pharmacies and hospitals.
Ministry of Health
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a drug take back site. If none are available, the pharmaceuticals removed from their original packaging should be packed in between some unwanted substance, such as coffee grounds, and thrown in the trash. Some pharmaceuticals that are specified on the FDA's flush list should be flushed down the toilet. Needles and other sharps should be put in a special container and brought to a take back site, depending on your community. More info thorugh the link below.
FDA: Safe disposal of medicines
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a drug take back site. If none are available in your region contact the municipality or a pharmacy for advise. If you must throw the pharmaceuticals in the garbage, remove the original packaging and hide them in som unappeling substance, such as coffee grounds. More info through the link below.
Safe disposal of prescription drugs
In Argentina, despite the existence of National Law 24051/91 "Hazardous Waste - Generation, handling, transport and treatment- Standards", which includes pharmaceutical products and waste of medicines and pharmaceutical products for human and animal health , there is no national program to deal with these wastes. Only some provincial plans or specific campaigns that involve not only the Government, but also the chambers of pharmacies and laboratories. More info through the links below.
Polo Sur, newspaper
If you have expired medicines in your home medicine cabinet or that you no longer need, or empty medicine containers, you must deposit them at the SIGRE Point of your nearest pharmacy. Currently, we have more than 21,800 pharmacies that collaborate with us and facilitate that the life cycle of the medicine is closed correctly. More info through the links below. The Punto SIGRE is the white container located inside the pharmacies, since it has been the place chosen by the health and environmental authorities as the most suitable. In addition, this container has been authorized by the Departments of the Environment of the different Autonomous Communities and Cities.
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to pharmacies, where they are collected by Cyclamed. The pharmaceuticals should be removed from the original packaging, needles and syringes should be returned in a separate container.
Cyclamed, national collection scheme website
Portugal has a national collection system for unused pharmaceuticals (human and veterinary medicines) called SIGREM – Sistema Integrado de Recolha de Embalagens e Medicamentos fora de uso. This system is managed by Valormed. You can return the pharmaceuticals to special containers located in pharmacies. The pharmaceluticals should be returned in their original packaging.
Valormed, responsible for national disposal of pharmaceutical waste
Follow the disposal instructions on the medicine label or in the patient information that came with the medicine. Do not dispose of medications down the sink or into the bathroom unless this information specifically says to do so. Call local law enforcement agencies to find out if your community has a drug recall program or event. Or ask your local garbage or recycling services regarding disposal services and guidelines. Another option is to throw away unused medications in the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registered containers. These authorized locations could be retail pharmacies, clinics or hospitals, and police offices. Some have collection programs or boxes where they can be thrown away.
La Prensa, Honduras newspaper
Assinde, a national organization, works together with pharmacies, hospitals and companies to collect pharmaceutical waste. Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to pharmacies without the original packaging. The instructions may vary between different municipalities.
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to pharmacies in containers provided by the pharmacies.
IFET, publicly owned company, subsidiary of the National Drug Organization (NDO) Ministry of Health
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to pharmacies without the original packaging. Needles and syringes should be returned in a special container to the municipal biohazard wate container.
Pharmaceutical waste, needles and syringes should be returned to Civic Amnesty take back sites.
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a pharmacy, drug take back site or recycling center. Remove pharmaceuticals from their original packaging. Needles and syringes should be packaged in a separate puncture-proof container.
Department of Environmetal Protection
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to pharmacies or collection points.
Federal Office for the Environment
SINGREM is a civil association in charge of the collection and destruction of expired medicines that since 2010 has destroyed more than 2,000 tons of waste of this type. During its collection, they have found medicines that even date back to the 70s. The project is present in 26 states of the Mexican Republic and benefits 70 million people. It is financed by the pharmaceutical industry and is free to the general public, who remove expired medicines, boxes and containers from their homes to dispose of them responsibly in one of the 5,000 containers installed in clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and shopping centers.
Pharmaceutical waste, including syringes, should be returned to a pharmacy. Local authoritise can also organize mobile collections. Contact your local authority for further details.
Pharmaceutical waste and packaging should be removed to pharmacies, which are requiered by law to accept them.
National Institute for Drug Control
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to the pharmacy without the outer package. Needles are collected separately in plastic containers.
State Institue of Drug Control
Pharmaceuticals should be returned to a pharmacy. The pharmacies are obliged by law to accept pharmaceutical waste from households, but this is financed by the pharmacies themselves. Therefore, pharmacy don't often advertise the service and might refuse to accept also.
Health care without harm Europe
There is no national collection system for pharmaceutical waste. Before throwing pharmaceuticals in the trash; turn them into a powder, mix with some unwanted substance (such as coffee grounds) and put in a non-transparent, strong, plastic bag. More info from the link below.
Wastes removed from the Antarctic Treaty area shall, to the maximum extent practicable, be returned to the country from which the activities generating the waste were organized or to any other country in which arrangements have been made for the disposal of such wastes in accordance with relevant international agreements.
Annex III to the protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a pharmacy. Outer packagining should be removed and the pharmaceutical waste returned in a transparent bag. Needles and syringes should be returned seperately to the pharmacy in a special container. Detailed instructions from the link below.
Icelandic Medicines Agency
Pharmaceutical waste (not genotoxic drugs) should be removed completely from original packagining and mixed in a bag with an unwanted substance. Genotoxic drugs should be returned to a hospital for disposal.
Taiwan Food and Drug Administration
Pharmaceuticals are guided to return to the pharmacies or producers to be recycled. However, this is not common knowledge among the public.
Ministry of the Environment of Brazil
In India there is no system in place for collecting pharmaceuticals, needles and syringes. The Indian Pharmaceutical Association is calling for stricter regulations and policies.
The Indian Pharmaceutical Association
Pharmaceutical waste should be returned to a pharmacy or a recycling centre. Outer packaging should be removed.
Institute of Public Health
Pharmaceutical waste should be brought to a drug take back site. If none are available the pharmaceuticals should be removed from original packaging and be mixed with an unwanted substance (such as coffee gorunds) and thrown in the trash. Some more dangerous pharmaceuticals should be flushed. More information from the link below.
Saudi Food & Drug Authority
There are no regulations regarding collection and disposal of household medical waste. Pharmaceutical waste can be returned to Health Maintance Organization (HMO) pharmacies.
Household medical waste disposal policy in Israel
Pharmaceutical waste should be brought back to a community pharmacy for correct disposal. The pharmacies are obligated by law to collect pharmaceutical waste. The CEKOOP is an organization that works with the pharmacies to collect unused and experied medications. There are around 900 CEKOOP pharmacies around Turkey.
Environmentalist Pharmacisit Cooperative
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the spreading of antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health . As a conclusion from the above, improper disposal of pharmaceuticals is one of the important contributors to them ending up in the wastewater and that the knowledge regarding proper disposal is often limited. This also contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance. We wanted to address this issue by spreading awareness of antibiotic resistance and safe drug disposal. Therefore, we developed materials for a campaign, which included flyers, an animated video and an informative website. A Finnish pharmacy distributed the campaign flyers, and we spread the campaign video on social media. You can visit our campaign website here, where we share the several actions we can all make to prevent the spreading of antibiotic resistance.
Fix the Flow is a strategic and informative tower defence game aimed at younger people to educate them about wastewater treatment process and synthetic biology. The idea of the game is to acquire cleaning equipment and different types of bacteria in order to clean contamination from wastewater (Fig. 2). As the game progresses, the difficulty level rises so the player needs to upgrade the bacteria with new plasmids to keep up with the oncoming trash and pollution.
During early stages of the ideation the coronavirus situation and its extent was still very
uncertain. We wanted to create something that would be safe to use and keep social distancing in
mind. We thought a mobile app could be an option, not only because it would teach people within
comfort of their homes, but also since many people are turning towards their phones to pass time
during a quarantine. The main focus of the app came to mind after a meeting with Paula
Lindell from Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority, which highlighted that many
people are not aware how the treatment process actually looks like, which ends up with many things,
such as pharmaceuticals or diapers, being disposed improperly. We thought it might be helpful to
transform this rather unattractive topic into something more exciting and approachable. Following
the iGEM goal of promoting synthetic biology among the general public, we also wanted to show how
microorganisms can be used in the industry, as well as highlight the fact that they can be improved
The towers and type of pollution in the game are based on techniques used in modern wastewater treatment plants. First enemy the player comes across is litter. The towers effective against this contamination are filters, which are usually the first step in most wastewater treatment plants. The following levels (flushes) introduce phosphorus and nitrogen: compounds essential for many important organic compounds, such as DNA and proteins. They are commonly used in fertilizers. This makes their efficient removal crucial, as they can lead to the eutrophication of natural waters . The tower used to remove phosphorus from wastewater is a ferrous sulfate machine, which causes phosphorus to precipitate . Nitrogen is mainly targeted by denitrifying bacteria: ammonium is first turned into NOx. This makes it easier for the denitrification bacteria to turn it into N2, which is then released into the atmosphere . Final enemies include heavy metals and pharmaceuticals. Their main characteristic is persistence in the environment. We also highlighted the fact that certain types of pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics, have an additional negative effect: they may lead to development of antimicrobial resistance. To combat this type of pollution, the player uses modified bacteria that can degrade, transform or take up these compounds from wastewater. Although this method is not the usual approach to remove this type of a contaminant, some facilities do use it . Moreover, it seemed more exciting and suited the game’s synthetic biology theme better. The defensive towers can be purchased with nucleotides and upgraded using plasmids.
The reason we aimed the app at younger people (around 12-15 year old) is that we wanted to spark up interest in synthetic biology relatively early on. We also thought that showing various uses of microorganisms and their transformation could help to warm up a somewhat villainized image of genetic engineering. One of the issues concerning exploring the field of synthetic biology is the fact that many materials are only available in English. This makes it more difficult for younger people who are not native speakers of the language to access such information, since they most likely do not have sufficient vocabulary yet. In order to make our app more accessible we decided to make it available in 13 other languages: Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, Catalan, Polish, Slovenian, Czech, Russian, German, Italian, Brazilian, Portuguese and French (special thanks to our translators). Moreover, we ensured its availability by publishing a free mobile version of it to Google Play Store and Apple's App Store. In addition, the game can be played on any computer in a browser (Fig. 3).
Try Fix the Flow in your Browser
Warning: Game is not supported by Safari! Try another browser
Before releasing the final version of the game, we did two testing rounds. In the first testing round, we asked for feedback on several areas:
- Was the text approachable?
- Was the text clear?
- Did players feel like they learnt something?
- Was the user experience enjoyable?
Based on this feedback we learnt that although players generally felt like they learnt about
synthetic biology, the language used to convey this information was not very engaging. Based on that
we re-wrote several sections of the game.
There were also several bugs detected by testers during the first beta test, such as one major upgrade not working for some towers due to small logic problem, not being able to rotate ferrous sulphate machine because rotate button being out of screen bounds, and global high score list not working as intended.
After doing the necessary changes to the first beta version, we released a second beta version tested by the members of our team. This second testing round was made to ensure the bugs were fixed and to release the app in different languages and check them. We have also gotten feedback from the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) regarding a few details of the wastewater treatment process.
We collaborated with Heureka, a Finnish science center for people of all ages. Together we organized three interactive workshops. Our goal was to spark an interest towards synthetic biology, as well as to familiarize the guests with the processes taking place in wastewater treatment plants. All Heureka visitors were encouraged to ask questions.
1. Draw your own bacteria!
The idea of the workshop was for guests to get creative and draw their own bacteria on shrinking plastic, so they can be turned into keychains. It was definitely our most popular workshop and kids were very excited about it.
2. DNA extraction
In this workshop, we wanted children to feel like actual scientists and let them extract DNA from kiwis with a few simple steps. We also took this opportunity to talk about DNA structure and cell biology, as they are key elements required to get into biotechnology.
3. Fix the Flow
In this workshop we presented our educational mobile game, Fix the Flow (more about the game above). The game is aimed at younger people to educate them about the wastewater treatment process and synthetic biology. Due to the coronavirus restrictions we were not able to provide visitors with tablets to play the game, but they were able to download Fix the Flow on their own devices using a QR-code (Fig. 3) and continue learning at the comfort of their own homes.
Overall, the day in Heureka was a wonderful chance to interact with people and have a discussion about the potential of synthetic biology. We also got great feedback from the staff, who are experts in science education.
International Biology Olympiad (IBO) is a premier biology competition for high school students. Students from over 70 countries participate in the competition yearly. Our team held a training evening for the Finnish team of students who are being coached for the competition. The training included a presentation about synthetic biology, iGEM and our project as well as an educational quiz. We also had discussions about studying in the university and their future plans. In a ‘speed-dating’ session trainees had an opportunity to ask about majors studied by our team members and what exactly such studies are encompassing. After the training we were happy to hear students enjoyed the evening and gave us very good feedback. Some of the comments they made:
- "An inspiring experience!"
- "I got a lot out of the iGEM training evening, also considering my future studies."
- "It was exciting to hear about the iGEM project and interview the team members."
High School Visit
We visited a biology class at Helsinki Normal Lyseum, a Finnish upper secondary school. We started the visit with an educational quiz and continued with a presentation. This presentation included the basics of synthetic biology as well as a summary of our project. The goal of the visit was to raise awareness of synthetic biology and encourage young students to study synthetic biology in the future.
GUIDE FOR USING ROSETTA WHEN DESIGNING LIGAND BINDING SITES
Our team has created a step-by-step guide for designing ligand binding sites with the Rosetta software. The guide is aimed at people with little to no background in computational biology. We believe that future iGEMers will greatly benefit from this detailed guide when tackling Rosetta. The guide was peer-reviewed by two other iGEM teams. After corrections, it was published in the journal initiative of Maastricht 2020 iGEM team to make it widely available. To learn more about our modelling process and Rosetta visit our modelling page.
iGEM AND SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY AWARENESS
Aalto & University of Helsinki Events
To promote iGEM and the synthetic biology field we have participated in several orientation events for new students in the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Helsinki, as well as Advertisement events at Aalto, where we have discussed our project and shown our recruitment video (Fig. 4).
One of the traditions associated with Finnish academia are overalls worn by students to various university-related events. Each student association (or in a case of technical universities - guilds) has their own overall colour. These overall are gradually covered in an increasing number of patches, which can be either purchased or given during student parties or other activities. The tradition of wearing overalls can be traced down to Sweden and its local sit-sit culture. In Finland, first overalls are thought to be worn by students of construction engineering of Aalto universities in the 1950s. In the 70s every guild in Aalto already had their own colour. In the next decade this wearing overalls had spread first to Vaasa, then to the rest of Finland. To continue with this tradition, we have designed our own Aalto-Helsinki 2020 iGEM patches and distributed them to Aalto and University of Helsinki students (Fig. 5 and 6).
TEK (Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland)
TEK is a Finnish trade union for academic engineers and architects, which aims to promote the interests of its members in the labour market, as well as promote education and development of technology in Finland. Apart from becoming our sponsor, TEK has interviewed us and published an article about synthetic biology, iGEM competition and our team’s project in their magazine, which is available here.
We have also been active on various social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, where we shared our project’s values and progress we are making. In addition to that we have been writing a blog on our team’s website.
1. WHO’S top 10 threats to global health in 2019. (2020). Retrieved 27 October 2020, from https://anmj.org.au/whos-top-10-threats-to-global-health-in-2019/
2. HELCOM (2018): HELCOM Thematic assessment of eutrophication 2011-2016. Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings No. 156. Available at: http://www.helcom.fi/baltic-sea-trends/holistic-assessments/state-of-the-baltic-sea-2018/reports-and-materials/
3. We clean wastewater efficiently. (2020). Retrieved 18 October 2020, from https://vanha.hsy.fi/en/experts/water-services/wastewater-treatment-plants/Pages/default.aspx
4. Langenhoff, A., Inderfurth, N., Veuskens, T., Schraa, G., Blokland, M., Kujawa-Roeleveld, K., & Rijnaarts, H. (2013). Microbial Removal of the Pharmaceutical Compounds Ibuprofen and Diclofenac from Wastewater. Biomed Research International, 2013, 1-9. doi: 10.1155/2013/325806