When we started the Quaranskin study, we had to communicate about our project and reach out to the different actors needed for the realization of the project. First, there are all the participants of the study who will have to sample their microbiome, we needed to reach out to many people among the iGEMers and also other people from countries where the confinement was still set up during the summer. For each of them, we needed to explain our project, and even before that we needed to define the skin microbiome and make them understand the complexity of this ecosystem, the relevance of the project and increase their curiosity and interest. Then we also had to communicate with all the actors playing an important role in the logistic of the project, it can go from the post company to whom we had to explain why we wanted to send some biological samples by mail to the sequencing company to whom we needed to give a context to our request of sequencing. During this whole process of implementing Quaranskin, we realize that the communication of the scientific topic of the skin microbiome was a real task in itself which is important to do in the right way if we want to set up well such a study. We also realized that the non-scientific population often do not know exactly what is the skin microbiome. From these two observations and from the fact that we had some members of the team who love teaching sciences, we decided to participate in a scientific exhibition where we had the opportunity to present the skin microbiome and our project.
The Cité des sciences et de l’industrie (The House of Science and Industry) is a well known French institution located in Paris and specialized in the dissemination of scientific and technical culture. There takes place some scientific exhibitions and conferences. During the Fête de la Science(the Science Festival) which is a French scientific mediation two days-event that promotes science to the general public and takes place every year in October since 1992, the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie organized a large scale event during which many stands were presenting scientific topics, experiments, or research projects. We, the Paris Bettencourt Team, had the opportunity to hold a stand there.
On our stand we proposed several activities, the first one was a questionnaire on general information about the skin microbiome. This was based on learning by guessing methods. The answers to the questions were usually not known and after guessing each question, a small explanation of the good answer was given to educate the visitors on the topics. In order to make this activity more playful for the kids and to make them discovered the lab materials and practices we created a set up allowing them to evaluate themself by pipetting a solution into reagents: for each question, 4 tubes were presented (corresponding to answers A, B, C, and D) the tube corresponding to the good answer was containing bleach and the other only water, the participants had to pipet some iron solution into the tube of their choice, and check the solution by seeing if the color of the solution turned orange or not. All the safety measures have been taken for this activity.
After introducing the skin microbiome to the visitors, we proposed to the kids to culture their microbiome on an LB plate as proof of the fact that micro-organisms live on their skin. They had the opportunity of swabbing different body sites with a cotton swab, spreading the microbiome on the plate, and keeping it to make the bacteria grow for a week at their homes. We enjoyed seeing the excitement of the children to run this small experiment and their imagination when they tried to guess what the plate would look like after some days.
Finally, we presented our iGEM projects with the support of a poster to make the visitors discover synthetic biology, and all the application this approach could have in dermatology. This presentation opened a fruitful debate with them asking some interesting questions to know more about the topics and the research in this field.
During these two days of Fête de la Science, we met especially families, so we had to communicate with adults and kids, with people with a scientific background or not... we learned to adapt our talks, to communicate in science with people who didn't know this language, finally to provoke interest to many diverse individuals. This fulfilling experience was even more than learning these new skills in communication, it was also the opportunity, especially with the questionnaire, to know what aspect of the skin microbiome subject is known or unknown in the majority of the population. This information is useful for us to design the scientific content presenting our project on the Quaranskin website since this content targets the wide population that could participate in our study.
Overall we enjoyed this experience of sharing our project with the general public. It was fruitful both in a personal and professional aspect!