Team IISER_Berhampur 2020 reached out to us through Instagram for a possible collaboration and we were stoked! Their project was centered around battling dengue, a mosquito-borne disease caused by the dengue virus. The possibility of a collaboration was a natural progression since we had quite a few similarities in our respective projects. We decided to collaborate with them in the context of Human Practices. A few meetings and brainstorming sessions later, we came up with the idea of hosting a joint webinar aimed at interacting with school children. The webinar, called “Attack of the Mosquitoes: Warriors, Assemble!”, was conducted on the 16th of August. Members from both teams spoke about the science behind and the prevalence of dengue and malaria. We discussed prevention strategies to combat them, talked about the biology of mosquitoes and conducted fun games and activities. The webinar culminated with a contest that asked the participants to send us before and after photos of their efforts to clean their surroundings and identify and eliminate possible breeding sites for mosquitoes. This was in a bid to give them practical, actionable ways to apply what they’d learned in the webinar. We received a lot of entries and the winners of the contest received Amazon vouchers. We also conducted surveys before and after the webinar to gauge the pre-existing knowledge base of the participants and to assess how effective the webinar had been. All in all, our collaboration with the Berhampur team was very insightful and exciting, and we’re glad we got the opportunity to work with them!
Team MSP-Maastricht 2020 reached out to all the iGEM teams in the month of July through the iGEM 2020 Global channel proposing the idea of The Proceedings Journal , 'iGEM Vector'. The journal was to consist of peer-reviewed research articles collected from various iGEM teams. Along with the online version of the journal containing the submitted articles, a printed version of the journal was to be published with the fifteen best-rated articles.
We were thrilled by the idea of publishing our work as a peer-reviewed paper. A short abstract of our project was sent to the team on July 15 and the initial draft of our article was uploaded on the journal portal of Team MSP-Maastricht 2020website on August 30. Our article- ‘In-silico design and analysis of peptide inhibitors against P. falciparum malaria’ was based on the computation and modeling we’d completed till August. The article was then reviewed by the iGEM teams of Stony Brook University and Ulm University. We submitted the final version of our article after making the suggested modifications on October 4. We also reviewed two articles from Team MIT 2020 and Team Nottingham 2020. After the submission of the final versions, a voting was done to determine the best fifteen articles that will appear in the printed version of the journal.
A scientifically simplified version of the journal named 'The Muggle Journal' targeted at the general public with less experience reading scientific articles and research papers is also under construction.
The collaboration with the iGEM MSP Maastricht team gave us a wonderful opportunity to prune our project idea to be presented as a research article. It also helped us improve our academic writing skills! By publishing our work through the two journals, we learned to effectively communicate our project and research and its relevance to the general public as well as to the scientific community.
All India iGEM Meet
The All India iGEM Meet (AIIM) was held virtually on the 31st of July and 1st of August. It was jointly organized by the iGEM teams from BITS Goa, IISER Tirupati, IISER Bhopal, IISER Berhampur, IIT Roorkee, and Manipal University. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the event was held virtually, compared to previous meetups, where teams would meet up at one of the participating institutes.
The two days were jam-packed with interesting talks, presentations, panels and activities for all the teams to participate in. Professors from multiple colleges delivered talks on topics related to synthetic biology. Quizzes, games and icebreaker activities served as fun ways for participants to get to know each other. Participating iGEM teams had to give twenty-minute long presentations talking about their projects and the work they had done so far. The following 10 minutes were reserved for questions from the audience and the judges to the team members.
Our team’s presentation consisted of a background about the severity of Malaria in India and around the world and rising drug resistance to currently used therapeutics, thus explaining the need for the development of new therapeutics. We then went on to speak about our team’s multi-pronged approach, consisting of Diagnostics, Therapeutics and Awareness. Our diagnostic kit consists of the already existing technologies of paper centrifuge and foldscope, along with a novel software developed by the team allowing a phone camera to diagnose malaria from images of blood smears that could be made from the foldscope and paper centrifuge.
Members from our team then explained the therapeutics part of our project, with an emphasis on computational results we’d obtained so far. We went on to explain our next course of action with an emphasis on experimental methods we’d use to verify results. Our team also spoke about HP and public engagement activities we had carried out so far.
After our presentation ended, we answered some specific questions from the audience about our project. We were also quizzed by the judges on aspects of our project. A piece of advice we received from the judges was that an important way to measure the success of our public engagement activities would be to measure their understanding of the topic before and after. We incorporated this into the next such public engagement activity we conducted, our webinar in collaboration with the IISER Berhampur iGEM team.
We were also asked to improve our assay to measure protein binding (Solid-phase protein interaction assay) and we incorporated the judges’ feedback. Overall, the event was wonderful with great exposure to other projects. We also developed our project further based on the feedback we received. Our poster for the meetup can be found below.
Team Pittsburgh 2020 had put up a message in the collabs tab on the iGEM website with the goal of hosting a podcast to shine a light on current iGEM teams and their projects and to provide a platform to share this information with a general audience.
Their podcast, called 'Bluetooth Bacteria', is an attempt to “take on controversial topics in synthetic biology including bioweapons, animal organ donation, and genetic dating through the lens of five students from the University of Pittsburgh. They discuss current advances in bioengineering as well as interview different iGEM teams from around the world to learn about their project, experiences, and challenges as they navigate the world of synthetic biology.”
You can find all their episodes here!
The podcast was hosted in a spontaneous and conversational manner with the general episode format being:
- Who are you?
- General Project Description:
- What is the inspiration for your project?
- What is the main problem you are trying to solve?
- How are you solving the problem?
- Potential Discussion Points
- What are some of the biggest problems/challenges your team has faced so far?
- How has COVID-19 affected your team and/or project?
- Have you considered moral or ethical limitations to your project?
- What are your future directions with your project?
The podcast audio was recorded via a zoom meeting. Their team’s goal was to complete raw recordings by the beginning of August. The finalized edited podcasts from various teams ended up being about 15-20 minutes long each. The podcast episodes were to be posted on Spotify from August 27th to October 22nd. Before posting, they sent us a copy of the relevant audio file for suggestions and approval, taking into consideration any suggestions we had. All in all, it was a great, fun learning experience. We learned a lot about effective science communication and are very grateful to the iGEM Pittsburgh team for the opportunity!
In the month of May, we approached Team Aalto-Helsinki 2020 with the idea of a collaboration. Their project idea was to develop a biosensor for the detection and quantification of macrolide antibiotics from wastewater. This biosensor was to be used on-site in wastewater treatment plants and was proposed to make analysis quicker and cheaper. Since we were working with combating rising antimalarial drug resistance of Plasmodium falciparum, we thought that the two teams could find some common grounds to help each other out. We met with them in the second week of May through a zoom call and discussed various possibilities for collaboration. We helped them in their survey on the drug disposal guidelines of various countries by preparing a short writeup on the ‘Disposal of Unused Medicines in India’. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn about India's drug disposal policies. All in all, it was a very insightful collaboration!
You can find the document here
Our mentor for iGEM 2020, Varsha Jaisimha, also mentored Team BITSPilani-Goa_India 2020. We first heard a little bit about their wonderful project from her. Members from their team reached out to us and we spent some time discussing our projects and how we could collaborate with each other. Their project to help farmers seemed like a simple synthetic biology idea that could drastically improve the gains of sugarcane farmers and help their livelihoods. During our conversation, they mentioned the malarial scientist Dr. Shruthi S. Vembar, and they helped us get in touch with her. She is a faculty scientist in the field of Molecular Parasitology at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), Bangalore, and has spent years studying epigenetic regulation and host-parasite protein interactions in Plasmodium falciparum. The BITS Goa iGEM team had also delved into some economic modeling to understand the production costs and market analysis of their project and were in the search for someone to help guide them on the same. We suggested and put them in touch with Dr. Bejoy Thomas, who guided them with this and provided feedback for the same.
Team Düsseldorf 2020 reached out to us on Instagram for a possible collaboration and told us they’d love to hear more about our project. We quickly set up a call with them and both teams discussed plans that had been developed so far. We also spoke about how the global pandemic had derailed plans for the start of wet lab work. The Düsseldorf team spoke to us about the situation in Germany at the time and we discussed the possibility of members from their team being able to perform wet lab experiments for us. They were hopeful of the situation easing up in Germany and of thus receiving access to the laboratories. We offered to help them with computational modeling in return. Unfortunately, this fell through as the pandemic worsened and they were unable to obtain access to the lab. However, they soon reached out to us with an interesting postcard collaboration that they were organizing internationally along with two other teams. Each participating team self-designed a postcard representing their team and their project, and the Düsseldorf team sent each team a set of the postcards from all the other participating teams. Due to the lockdown situation in India, we were unable to physically print our postcard and sent them a digital postcard instead, which we’ve attached below. The set of international postcards from them is currently in transit on its way to us!
One of our team members happened to talk to a member of Team Tuebingen 2020 during a webinar to discuss project ideas and a possible collaboration. During our meeting with them, we realised that we couldn't directly collaborate on various aspects of our projects but they offered to put us in contact with Dr Thirumalaisamy P Velavan (a summary of our interaction with him can be found on our Integrated Human Practices page here), who is a Professor and Group Leader at the Institute of Tropical medicine, Universitätsklinikum Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany. We subsequently had an interview with Dr Velavan and his insights were immensely helpful to the evolution of our project. You can find out more about how we incorporated Dr Velavan's feedback into our project here. We are very grateful to the iGEM Tübingen team for putting us in contact with Dr Velavan, allowing us to refine and improve our project.
We contacted Team UPCH_Peru 2020 through Instagram for a possible collaboration. They were more than willing to collaborate with us, and we set up a meeting. During our conversation they gave us the contact of Dr Dionicia Gamboa (a summary of our interaction with her can be found on our Integrated Human Practices page here), who is an Associate Professor at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Sciences, Faculty of Sciences and Philosophy, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH). Her interview was immensely helpful to the direction and evolution of our project. She provided many useful insights that we incorporated into our project and we are very grateful to the UPCH Peru team for getting us in touch with her. You can read more about how she helped our project on our human practices page here. We also collaborated with them for data collection for our Malaria survey. They translated the survey into Spanish and circulated it, which gave us a much better understanding of the attitudes and knowledge of the general public about Malaria. We thank the UPCH team for all their help and the learning experiences we had!