Have you ever thought about contraception? Did you know most contraceptives are invasive and can have severe side effects? On a rainy evening this spring, two of our team members came across this issue and as soon as we reached out to the public, it became clear to us, that the need for an alternative is urgent. A new, innovative, and non-invasive method is needed, and we believe synthetic biology is the solution! Therefore, we developed WavySense: Contributing to gender equality by supporting and empowering people with uterus, lacking any side effects. WavySense enables users to determine the current fertility by directly measuring the characteristic sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and luteinizing hormone in the urine using the surface acoustic wave technique (SAW). With the combination of SAW and a self-provided biosensor, we want to introduce the next generation of biosensors to the iGEM community.

You probably have experienced the same thing: You are sitting on the couch discussing personal problems with a friend and your friend answers: “OMG, I have exactly the same problem!”. When you are part of an iGEM project your first thought probably is: Can we solve this issue with synthetic biology? The second and third thoughts are: Is this actually a problem for other people than us and how would the people that are affected by this problem would envision a solution? So, we reached out and throughout our whole project we worked hand in hand with people affected by our research to design a project that is responsible and good for the world. We have started a survey to find out how people imagine a contraceptive method. Furthermore we introduced synthetic biology to young children creating an interactive audio book. Learn more on our human practice page.

You may have heard about the discussion that the contraceptive pill for men was not approved by the FDA, due to side effects. Well, the hundreds of millions of people with uterus around the globe who take the pill have even more severe side effects and still there are only a few alternatives. Each alternative is either invasive or not really save. The dilemma of either not be able to plan when you want to get pregnant or risk your own health supports gender inequality and worsen the health and well-being of people without uterus. Learn more on our background page.

You may have stumbled across the term “person with uterus”. We realized that writing women or female might not include all people with a menstrual cycle, and thus they might not feel included in our project. We had no idea how to solve this problem and didn’t find much about how to gender in scientific texts, but it was clear to us, that we, as next generation of synthetic biology researchers, want to be a role model for inclusion and thus we decided to reach out to experts, perform research and put up guidelines to help the iGEM community to write texts where each and everyone feels included. If you want to learn more, please visit our inclusion page.

After research, we decided that a biosensor that is able to measure the concentration of the three characteristic sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and luteinizing hormone would be the safest method for contraception, while ensuring good health and well-being. However, common biosensors often lack the ability to quantify the concentration of the substrate they shall measure. That is why we want to introduce a biosensor-SAW combination to the iGEM community: The SAW technology is based on a piezoelectric crystal with input and output interdigital transducers (IDTs) and a gold sensing film between them. The feature about this kind of crystal is the possibility of inducing waves into it for example via a frequency. An electronic module leads this frequency into the input IDT, inducing a wave which the output IDT recognizes. The phase of this wave can be shifted due to a mass change on the crystals surface. This mass change is generated by an antibody-antigen binding on the sensing film. Learn more on our measurement and our hardware page.

Although we all suffer under Covid-19, our team and our PI established a concept to work in the laboratory. We designed and produced specific binding molecules for the hormones we want to measure. The required hormone-specific antibodies were generated in Escherichia coli and immobilized on a gold-coated surface, so they can be used for the SAW measurement. By introducing plasmid vectors, we want to enable E. coli ER2738 to produce specific nanobodies, small single-domain antibodies, against estradiol and progesterone. For this purpose, the used vectors are cloned and then transformed. With phage display the affinity maturation of the nanobodies against estradiol and progesterone takes place. The antibodies are then expressed and purified. Via ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) the affinity between antibody and hormone (antigen) is then tested in vitro. On the other hand, we expressed scFvs (single chain variable fragment) against progesterone and estradiol in E. coli DH5α by cloning and transforming plasmid vectors. Also, the scFvs were then purified. The immobilization of the nanobodies and the scFvs onto the gold-coated surface is achieved by histidine. Here you can find all our antibody results!

But while talking to our so called “end-users” it became clear that they want an easy display of their fertility test results. We created an app which tracks, evaluates and visualizes recent measurements, displaying the current fertility status. The app consists of different screens, widgets for easy usage. Additionally the data are stored locally, so no access from outside is possible. Learn more about our app.

At the end of this page, we want to enable you to see who is behind this project. You can find our team membershere. Furthermore, we want to thank all the amazing people who made this experience possible for us, especially during this pandemic. Get to know our support system on our attributionspage.