Aalto-Helsinki 2020



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 a 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, what they thought could be improved, 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. 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 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 us there were two other iGEM teams presenting their projects: the FCB-UANL team from Mexico, who attempts 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 of biomarkers for endometriosis easier.


As with most of 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 usually the result of improper disposal and use of antibiotics. As it 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.

For that reason, we created a campaign concerning the threat of antimicrobial resistance, its potential negative effects, as well as several changes we can all make in order to prevent it (Figure 1). Read more on: link.

Figure 1. Flyer of our campaign to raise public awareness about 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 (Figure 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.

Figure 2. Preview of Fix the Flow, the game app developed by Aalto-Helsinki 2020 iGEM team.

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 keeps 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 iGEM goal of promoting synthetic biology among the general public, we also wanted to show how microorganisms can be used in industry, as well as highlight the fact that they can be improved using biotechnology.

Figure 3. QR code to download Fix the Flow or play it in the browser.

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 demonized image of genetic engineering. One of the issues concerning exploring the field of synthetic biology is that 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 12 other languages: Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, Catalan, Polish, Slovenian, Czech, Russian, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and French (special thanks to our translators). Moreover, to make the game as accessible as possible, we ensured ITS availability: iPhone, Android, Chrome, MS Edge, Firefox and Opera (Figure 3).

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, 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.

Try Fix the Flow in your browser:


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 (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Recruitment video of Aalto-Helsinki 2020 iGEM team.


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 numbers 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 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 (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Overall patches designed by Aalto-Helsinki 2020 iGEM team.

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 for becoming our sponsor, TEK has published an article about synthetic biology, iGEM competition and our team’s project in their magazine, which is available (in Finnish) here.

Social Media

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.



IBO Seminar

High School Visits

Special thanks to HSY for all their support

Kemistintie 1, Espoo, Finland