Team:NOVA LxPortugal/Education

IGEM logo
pinemato fight logo
Nova_LxPortugal-Science Communication

Scientific Meeting on Synthetic Biology and Forest Management

We organized a two-morning online scientific meeting, on September 24th and 25th, entitled ‘Biotechnology/ Synthetic Biology approaches to Forestry Management’. Our aim, and accomplishment, was to share our Synthetic Biology project with researchers and technicians that study and deal with the Bursaphelenchus xylophilus nematode and Pine Wilt Disease (PWD) in Portugal, as well as other curious scientists and students.

Eight guest speakers accepted our invitation: Professor Manuel Mota , from the University of Évora, co-discoverer of PWD in Portugal, in 1999; Dr. Lurdes Inácio, Head of the Nematology Lab at INIAV (National Institute for Agrarian and Veterinary Research); Professor Célia Miguel, Head of ForGen Lab at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon (FCUL); Dr. Luís Bonifácio, PWD expert from INIAV’s Agrarian and Forest Systems and Plant Health unit; Professor Ana Cristina Figueiredo, from the Plant Biology Department at FCUL and the Plant Biotechnology Center from Associated Laboratory CESAM; Dr. Joana Cardoso, from the University of Coimbra’s NEMATO-lab; Dr. Adrián Villamor, from Escola Superior de Biotecnologia at Universidade Católica do Porto; and Dr. Diogo Proença, from the Department of Life Sciences of the University of Coimbra.

The meeting, organized in a structure of short talks followed by discussion, far exceeded our expectations, since it provided a platform for the speakers and members of the audience to openly discuss their past, current and future planned research regarding PWD, nematology, forests and biotechnology, including unpublished results. This community had not met for long and it was, in their words, a unique opportunity to get together and update, and even forge new partnerships.

Madalena Parrado and Beatriz Domingues presented PineNematoFight and the team registered all comments, suggestions and questions from the researchers. As we wished, these interventions represented precious help to ensure assessment and validation of our project, and to identify potential weaknesses to address and strengths to further explore.

One example was the reminder that different species of pine have different microbiomes, which can impact a larger scale implementation of our solution. Another was the fact that alpha-pinene can be produced by the tree in response to other stresses and thus might induce the production of spectinabilin in the presence of other stimuli besides infection by the nematode.

Our dissemination materials consisted of an announcement ‘flyer’ sent to all guest speakers and corresponding publication on Twitter, Instagram, personal social media from team members, and ITQB NOVA’s website and newsletter. We also had spontaneous dissemination at least in one researcher’s center’s Facebook page, and in LinkedIn and Slack, by PineNematoFight enthusiast Dr. David Pires, a nematologist.

In our impact assessment questionnaire, 91% of respondents said the meeting corresponded or exceeded their expectations, and the sharing of information, ideas, goals and approaches was the most commonly more appreciated aspect of the meeting (open answer).

Flyer and some examples of posts:






Here you can find most of the presentations, whose authors kindly agreed to publicly share:

iGEM flyer

Team member Fabiana created a flyer to explain what is the iGEM competition and our team’s project and goals. This flyer is going to be shared with college students for them to learn about iGEM and the PineNematoFight solution for the Pine Wilt Disease. We hope this inspires more students to join this competition and to utilize the skills developed in high school and college years in the synthetic biology area, to solve other important issues in Portugal and the World.

Social Media

During the course of iGEM our team made several posts explaining the scientific background of our project, but also other concepts that may be unknown to the public that follow us on our Instagram and Twitter accounts, such as a series of publications introducing synthetic biology. Social media also served as a means to communicate and disseminate all project related activities.

Some examples of posts:





Pitch presentation at the Paris Global Meet-up

In the Global Meet-up hosted by the parisian teams, we were able to introduce our project to other iGEM teams present. This was an incredible opportunity to present and explain to the other iGEMers what is Pine Wilt Disease and our solution. While we primarily look at this problem under a “portuguese lens”, it is important to note that this disease affects several countries around the globe. With this presentation we hope that other iGEMers develop an interest in this disease that affects pine trees all over the world.


Contacts with stakeholders/ partners

In order to better understand the importance of the pine industry to our country and the impact of Pine Wilt Disease, we reached out to several companies, associations and other institutions. We took advantage of these contacts to present our solution and to ask business, government and society stakeholders if they were interested in backing up and getting involved in our project. Organizations such as Forestis (Forest Association of Portugal), Baladi (National Federation of Wastelands), Resipinus (Resin Distillers and Explorers Association), Floresta Atlântica (forest managing society), Associação de Produtores Florestais de Pampilhosa da Serra, Syngenta, Navigator, Centro PINUS (most relevant national and transversal association for maritime pine forests) and Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e Florestas (governmental agency responsible for forests and Nature conservation) answered our inquiries. While a few did not show much interest (organizations with no record of PWD impact and/ or more concerned with the calamity of forest fires), they were still able to give us new and relevant information relating to our project. And several, like Centro PINUS, Resipinus, Forestis, ICNF and Syngenta came on board as partners.

A translated version of an e-mail sent to the pine industry players is presented below:

Good Morning,
On behalf of the PineNematoFight project, which is participating in the iGEM International Synthetic Biology contest, we would like to ask you some questions, regarding the framework and objectives of the initiative, which proposes a new, more sustainable approach to controlling pinewood nematode dispersion - in this case, in the maritime pine.
Below is a brief description of the project. Please do not hesitate to ask us any additional questions.
NOVA_LxPortugal is the first, and only, Portuguese team to participate in this prestigious mega-competition. It is composed of master and undergraduate students from UNL and supervised by Professors Isabel Rocha and Sofia Ferreira, from ITQB NOVA.
How many maritime pine producers are there in Portugal and what area of ​​forest do they represent?
How many are affected / what area is affected by the pinewood nematode disease? What are the losses, in value and per hectare, of Portuguese maritime pine producers due to the nematode disease of the pinewood?
Which is the biggest or what are the biggest producers of Pinus pinaster in Portugal and would it be possible to get in touch with some to obtain testimonies in the first person? Are there alternative preventive solutions and treatments to those already used (insect traps / insecticides / tree felling)?
Would you be willing to participate/join a proof of concept of the PineNematoFight project (described below)? In what capacity?
How much do you think maritime pine producers would be willing to invest in this solution (in unit/dose x quantity of pine)?
PineNematoFight - Controlling and preventing pine wilt disease with engineered bacteria - aims to control and prevent the so-called pine wilt disease, or pine nematode disease - in Pinus pinaster, one of the pine species most susceptible to infection and most representative in the Portuguese forest, as well as for the wood products and exports industry.
The objective is to combat PWD, caused by the nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, through the creation of a biocontrol organism - bacterium (Pseudomonas putida) genetically manipulated, capable of producing a nematicidal compound; this is where the scientific-technological novelty resides. The project would thus contribute to a more sustainable market/industry, while also helping to avoid deforestation and preserve the forest.
The safety and efficiency of the mechanism comes from the fact that P. putida is endogenous in the nematode and in the microbial community of the pine. The mutant bacterial population is thus present in the trees and the system is only activated when the infection occurs.

Global Meet-Up Webinar “Soil Biodiversity”

Team member Tiago presented with the Groningen team the Webinar about Soil Biodiversity at the iGEM Global Meet-Up. This presentation is indirectly connected with our project since one of our main goals is the preservation of the Portuguese forest. This presentation allowed both teams to bring to the forefront a serious issue affecting our planet’s ecosystems.

NOVA_LxPortugal promotional and presentation videos

One of the requirements of iGEM competition was the creation of promotional and a presentation video. During the creation of these videos we had to have in mind the target audience was not just constituted by other iGEM teams and juries, that may or may not know about the Pine Wilt Disease and the scientific background and techniques utilized, but also to the more layman and social media followers, among others, that will also have access to our videos.

NOVA_LxPORTUGAL in group reunions

During the course of iGEM our team was separated into several groups that would focus on different tasks at hand: dry lab team, communication team, experimental team, video team and social media team. During the weekly meeting, each group would present and discuss their work with the remaining team members.


Team Leader João’s Presentation

Team leader João Costa went to the Welcoming session for the new students of the Master in Biochemistry for Health at ITQB NOVA, the master degree of seven of the nine-team members, not only to welcome the next generation of biochemists but also to talk about iGEM and our project. This presentation served as an example that science is a fluid area and that interdisciplinarity and the ability to leave ones comfort zone are important skills to develop for the future scientific career of these students. This can be exemplified by our own team: while most of us are doing their master’s degree in Biochemistry for Health, we still chose a project concerning environmental preservation, due to the national importance of the Pinus pinaster.


Project logo design

For our logo, and once the name of the project was chosen, we started by agreeing upon what we wanted the icon to convey. With the help of ITQB NOVA’s Science Communication & Image Office (SC&I), we started the process of creating a logo which included the maritime pine, something representing the biocontrol aspect - maybe the nematode asphyxiating the tree trunk - and something referring to Portugal, since it is the country’s first participation. We ended up with five choices, from which we chose - through a Slack vote - this one:


We then went back to the drawing board, since we felt an essential element was still missing: the goal of fighting the nematode with a bacteria (Pseudomonas) engineered with SynBio. Again with the help of the SC&I team, eight more proposals were produced:


Finally, we felt option number two was the one which best represented the project and our goals for the logo design. The process started in the beginning of July and was completed on August 18th.


PineNematoFight on the radio: ‘90 Segundos de Ciência’

The world of Synthetic Biology, iGEM and the PineNematoFight project will be featured in an episode of award-winning podcast '90 Segundos de Ciência' (‘90 Seconds of Science’), which ‘gives voice to Portuguese researchers’ daily, from Monday to Friday. The co-PI of NOVA_LxPortugal Sofia Ferreira will go on air nationwide, in the first person, since the podcast is also a radio show broadcasted by Antena 1, the information station of RDP – Radio Difusão Portuguesa (National Broadcasting Service). The show is also broadcasted by RDP Africa and RDP International and the podcast is available online worldwide, at least to all Portuguese speaking listeners.


Other press contacts

Through ITQB NOVA’s Science Communication & Image (SC&I) Office, we are also trying to distribute a press release to other media, about PineNematoFight and iGEM, together with the university’s communications agency. This would not only have the ‘seal of approval’ of ITQB NOVA but also from the whole Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

The press release from ITQB about the silver medal can be read in HERE.

SynBio, iGEM and PineNematoFight go to school

With the help of the SC&I Office, we got in touch with Escola Secundária Luís de Freitas Branco (ESLFB) (ESLFB), in Oeiras, where ITQB NOVA has its headquarters, with the goal of scheduling a presentation about SynBio, iGEM and PineNematoFight, aimed at secondary students, for the end of November, when our national Science and Technology Week takes place. The idea is also to tell our iGEM experience after finishing the Virtual Jamboree. We are planning to use different equipment and materials for lab demonstrations and an online real time quiz tool to engage the students with immediate feedback – and prizes at the end.


Live video dissemination session

We are also planning a live video session about our project for the week of November 24th, our National Day of Scientific Culture. Taking place this year from November 23rd until the 29th, the Science and Technology Week will be filled with all sorts of events for different target audiences throughout the country.