On 22 August 2020, we collaborated with CityU Team and HKUST Team to conduct an online talk to a group of 167 students invited from our three member schools. We introduced the development and prospectus of Synthetic Biology as the solution to many of our present and future needs in food manufacturing, pharmaceutical field, remediation and energy production. Participants were impressed by the ambitious objectives of Synthetic Biology to improve our standard of living. For those who have interest in a career development in Synthetic Biology, the talk included highlights of degree courses provided by local universities and also local companies that applied Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology into their business.
On 29 August 2020, six Hong Kong iGEM teams joined a full-day online symposium organized by HKU Team. Teams presented their projects in turn and received comments and floor questioning from experts and professionals invited from local universities and related field. Their comments and advice were found valuable and constructive to us. For instance, we were recommended to try out using other bacteria instead of E. coli to produce the enzymes to degrade PET, and to test for the optimal conditions of all enzyme candidates in various scales of design. As a high school team, our young members were deeply impressed by the insights, team spirit and effort displayed by the university teams.
There are many precious IGEM projects about PET degradation. For example, the 2019 Hong Kong GTC Team and 2012 UC Davis Team degraded PET by their own PETase mutants and created a microbial strain to metabolize PET. We learnt a lot from their projects and the following experience sharing are most valuable:
- Rational protein engineering to increase the enzymatic activity of cutinases to degrade PET
- Enzyme surface with increased hydrophobicity could interact with the substrate better
- A newly developed fluorescent biosensor can quantify PET degradation through bacterial fluorescence
To equip our team members with basic knowledge on biosafety and biosecurity and to be aware of the risks connected to our project at all stages, we gained support from the Jockey Club STEAM Education Resources Sharing Scheme offered by the Open University of Hong Kong. Dr. Emily Wong of the School of Biology and Technology at OUHK delivered our team an online talk on Biosafety & Biosecurity with Q&A session on the ZOOM platform.
Last but not least, we would like to express our gratitude to World Wide Fund Nature (WWF), Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), Professor King Chow of Life Science, Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at HKUST for their genuine help and valuable opinion. The WWF staff expressed their worries on the potential impact on the ecosystems when GM bacteria were used or released in nature. AFCD reminded that biosecurity should be taken seriously and all experimental GM microbes should be properly disposed.
We would like to express our very great appreciation to Professor King-Lau Chow of Life Science and Biomedical Engineering at HKUST for his valuable and constructive suggestions during the planning and development of our project and research work. His willingness to give his time generously to conduct an interview with our team members on the Zoom platform on 30 September 2020 has been very much appreciated. Professor Chow gave invaluable advices and suggestions to improve the shortcomings of our project. For instance, he suggested fitting our technical capability in a real-world context by turning our main focus on degrading PET with only 1 cutinase in a contained environment instead of focusing on E.coli and bivalves and use several cutinases. He also gave reminders on the biosafety and biosecurity aspects related to manipulation of GMOs. His recommendation to focus on the tertiary structure, ease of conformational change of the enzyme has been inspiring too.