"The hardest problems of pure and applied science can only be solved by the open collaboration of the world-wide scientific community." - Kenneth G. Wilson
Becoming a part of the iGEM community - a group of talented, diverse, innovate thinkers passionate about synthetic biology - was special to every member of the 2020 Stanford iGEM team. Throughout the 2020 season we had meetups with three different teams from the US and abroad where we were able to speak to other undergraduate scientists about Synthetic Biology, and learn about their projects, while also helping each other with verifying experiments and testing novel software.
Our Methods and Advice To Future Teams
Creating a Twitter profile for the team was indispensable to getting into contact with other teams. From there, it was useful to see that most teams had iGEM 2020 in their profile names, and it was quite easy to engage in direct messaging. We were very fortunate to develop a good correspondence with other California-based teams. In these relationships, we shared project ideas, practiced presentations, and discussed experiment verification. Furthermore, we also regularly checked the iGEM 2020 slack channels, as well as the general BioMaker Network slack to survey other collaborative opportunities. That being said, looking back there was definitely more we could have done to leverage our social media presence, and we hope the following will be helpful for future iGEM teams!
Timing is crucial, and if we had created our profiles earlier, our reach would have been much greater. Cross-promoting would have also been extremely valuable, such as having created an Instagram page and mentioning our Twitter in the description, or vice-versa. In addition, images are powerful; even given the logistical constraints that made it very difficult for all of our team members to be in one place, we certainly could have documented more of our process through drawings, or Zoom meeting photos to give our pages more personality. Overall, however, we are so grateful to have met such amazing teams, and to have helped them as much as we were able!
Another useful resource that we recommend future iGEMers utilize is the iGEM site itself, where it is possible to see the every team's project abstract and contact information. It was through this avenue that the team at Edinburgh got in contact with us, which we are very grateful they did. Additionally, the iGEM website's Collaborations page is a useful resource for trying to find a collaboration or get people to join onto your team's idea. We looked into this method, but didn't ultimately end up connecting with a team through this avenue.
UC Santa Cruz
Our team met with the UC Santa Cruz iGEM team several times to discuss and learn about each other's projects and lab work. During these discussions, we talked about several things including current logistical and lab work related problems. At various points throughout the iGEM experience, we also used each other's contacts in an effort to help each other overcome various problems we were having through related to our projects. UC Santa Cruz was instrumental in connecting us with the UC Davis team, which helped us expand our collaboration network. To help them, Lauren was able to get them in touch with Stanford's teaching lab (the UTL), as well as a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Cal Poly, who had some equipment they needed for their project.
After meeting with the team from UC Davis during the summer, several members of each team have stayed in regular email contact with each other as both teams try to perfect the software aspects of this year’s projects. UC Davis has given us helpful insight into how we can make our improved toehold development software better and more user friendly and, also, just been an overall helpful resource regarding some of the logistics surrounding setting up our team wiki and plans/ideas regarding the various iGEM deliverables. To help them, we were able to test UC Davis’ software in order to offer feedback on the design, and helped to address any bugs we ran into while using it. Furthermore, while testing their software we became the first people outside of the UC Davis team to successfully run and use their software. In return, they did the same thing and offered us feedback on the software tool we improved from EPFL iGEM.
One of the more substantial collaborations we had related to iGEM was with the Edinburgh iGEM team. We met with them several times to discuss not only what each of our projects were, but also to give feedback on potential ways we could improve in our projects. Furthermore, we helped each other validate various parts of each other's projects. For example, the Edinburgh team is ran experiments to test and try to validate one of the toehold constructs in cell-free as well as giving us feedback and help regarding how we can improve the computational models related to our recombination-based detection system. With their help, we were able to get the data on the Engineering Successpage that proves we succeeded in designing a working toehold! Our team is worked to validate and reproduce various procedures related to their biosensor including their ligation and In Vitro Transcription procedures. We are really grateful for the Edinburgh team and their willingness to help us test our toehold sequences.
We have only had access to lab space for a limited period of time, and even then it has been limited, and additionally our funding has been short given that we need to pay for lab space and other unexpected costs incurred by COVID-related operations. Those factors combined means that we have not had the opportunity yet to verify our toehold sequences in lab - whether in vitro or in vivo - so we do not know if the sequences will actually work for detection. While we have verified that they should work with computational methods, Edinburgh testing the most-likely toehold sequence in their lab for us in cell-free will help us to know for sure from a real-world, practical perspective. This means that later, if our detection system is not working, we can know whether or not the toehold sequence itself is the problem - or if it is some other factor like a cellular process inside of subtilis that is interfering with expression. This is a really important collaboration and line of experimentation that we look forward to getting the data from to further our understanding of toeholds. A huge thank you to Edinburgh for spending their time and resources to help us out.
Update after the Wiki Thaw: We were able to both complete collaborations, and thank Edinburgh greatly for their commitment to our partnership, even though the data was not back for either of our collaborations until after the WikiFreeze.