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Team:Tuebingen/Human Practices

PacMn

Human Practices

Introduction

Heavy metal pollution is a global, severe problem, despite the introduction of new environmental laws and a rising green consciousness. Based on this and the notion that iGEM projects should be responsible and good for the world, we decided to target the global issue of manganese pollution. However, to create a sustainable project, public outreach and appropriate communication are necessary besides the work in the laboratory. Here, human practice is required.
Due to the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic a lot of our initial human practice ideas, such as a student lab and podium discussion at the Experimenta Science Center, had to be discarded or rethought to still be feasible without endangering participants. Furthermore, we realised that an interdisciplinary team and the iGEM competition also propose many opportunities to contribute to science communication concerning the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Altogether, these factors influenced our dual approach to human practice this year by addressing both manganese pollution and SARS-CoV-2.
Since we were strongly affected by SARS-CoV-2 from the very beginning, we started our outreach by talking to affected people of different fields and diverse SARS-CoV-2 experts. Upon having narrowed down our own research project, we also got in touch with experts regarding the manganese biosensor. Additionally, we started a social media campaign to raise awareness and combat misinformation about water pollution in collaboration with Team Stuttgart.
Due to the limitations the pandemic posed on many learning institutions world-wide, we wanted to help maintain science communication possibilities, such as scholar science clubs and the Experimenta Science Center in Heilbronn (Germany). Consequently, we collaborated with the German school “Colegio Alemán de Santiago” from Chile where we hosted the Chile class project and also designed a lab course for the Experimenta.

Expert Interviews

Interview with Dr. Thomas Riedel
Copyright: Dr. Thomas Riedel.
Dr. Thomas Riedel works at the IWW Zentrum Wasser in North Rhine Westphalia. Besides hydrochemical modelling and analysis of complex data, he is an expert in many areas related to ground and drinking water such as the development of water supply concepts, the analysis of organic and inorganic pollutants in groundwater and soil and the consequences of environmental change on water management. His paper “Temperature associated changes in groundwater quality” inspired us in choosing manganese as our ˝heavy metal of interest and made us aware of the locally enhanced manganese levels in German ground water. Later on, we decided we needed him as a mentor and asked for an interview. In the interview he gave us profound insights about his work as a hydrogeologist, the upside and downsides of standard analytical tools in comparison to biosensors and gave a brief overview of the mechanisms related to the locally enhanced manganese levels in German groundwater. This helped us tremendously in developing our own project.
Find the interview here:
Interview with Dr. Philipp Thiel
Copyright: Philipp Thiel

To obtain the opinion of an expert on the drylab part of our project, we reached out to Dr. Thiel, the coordinator of the Institute for Bioinformatics and Medical Informatics at the University of Tübingen. The shape of our project was greatly influenced by his helpful comments and advice.
After we presented our ideas and plans, he helped us to evaluate the time needed for certain steps and pointed out possible difficulties. This led to the realization that we needed to scale down the scope of our project and to discard some ideas for being able to optimally execute other parts. We then discussed which plans were the most interesting, plausible or promising.
We integrated this feedback by focussing on finding the structure of phytochelatin variants and analysing them with molecular dynamics simulation, while discontinuing our work on riboswitches and docking. Our reasoning was the higher abundance of modelling options for peptides, such as phytochelatins, in comparison to nucleic acids sequences, such as the riboswitch, and the shortage of tools for docking proteins with inorganic ions.
Interview with Prof. Dr. Peter Kremsner
Copyright: Dr. Kremsner
Prof. Dr. Peter Kremsner is the head of the Department for Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen (Germany). Despite being very busy coordinating and investigating the SARS-CoV-2 virus vaccine studies, he gave us some minutes of his precious time and answered all our questions about the virus, the present COVID-19 situation and the current state of the most promising vaccine studies. Based on this interview, we wrote two articles for MSP-Maastricht’s journal initiative. One was a direct translation of the interview and the other a shortened, lighter version for MSP-Maastricht’s muggle journal. We are very happy that our article was chosen as one of the best articles submitted by other participating Teams, which, in our opinion, highlights that there is great interest in science students in the progress of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development.

Social Media Campaigns

Water pollution awareness Campaign
Social Media Campaign with Stuttgart.
The aim of the collaborated social media campaign with Team Stuttgart was to raise awareness for water pollution. While Team Stuttgart has created an effective filter system named LAC-MAN to free water from drug residues, in PacMn, we designed a filter system capturing manganese in fresh water resources. With these two projects targeting the same United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), we figured a collaboration to be very fruitful.
Only adequate science communication can achieve a change in the peoples’ mindsets, finally contributing to a better future. Unfortunately, we found science communication for water pollution to be lacking, and, in our opinion, under-presented when looking at the precarious situations threatening our world, safety and health.
When designing our collaboration, it was of great importance to us to convey the scope that comes with the topic. Water pollution has a large impact on the environment, but a social aspect to it as well. In order to gain a broad understanding, we wanted to reach out to a possibly large audience. However, due to the constraints posed by the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, our options regarding science communication were very limited. We would have loved to organize podium discussions and a science slam, again. But this year, this was not an option. Therefore, we decided to spread our campaign online.
When researching pollution of water resources, we used many different sources, such as Unicef and the UN SDG websites [1, 2]. We tried to keep our messages simple and precise, adapting to the social media format, while also communicating the key facts. In the end, we came up with five posts covering the topics waterbodies. , waterbodiesglobal water pollution, microplastic,. drug residues. and heavy metal pollution.
As a result, we got a lot of great feedback and believe that our social media campaign greatly contributed to a higher attention and better understanding of the public for the issue of water pollution.
How does Covid 19 affect you? Tell us your story
Social Media Campaign with Stuttgart.
As the new coronavirus reached Germany in march, we as a team started to discuss how we would handle any personal interaction from then on and decided to switch everything to online meetings. Simultaneously, we also thought about the tremendous impact that this pandemic must have on other industries and institutions, such as schools, transport companies, grocery stores, and pharmacies. To learn more about the consequences that workers face as a result of the lockdown and the virus itself, our team interviewed four different people that work in the fields mentioned above. Especially for the schools, it was very important to us to talk to a student as well as a teacher. The interviews were published on our social media channels ( Instagram and Facebook).

Education

Chile Class
Chile Class photo.
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has made it very hard for schools to maintain an inspiring teaching environment, especially in the field of natural sciences.. Thus, we, as an iGEM team, wanted to provide an alternative format - a science class held by ourselves - to advertise a career in science to young students and fill the vacuum left behind by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The rationale on our side was an improvement of our own science communication skills, while providing a positive learning environment for students of diverse ages. Additionally, we wanted to transmit our knowledge from a student’s perspective, therefore avoiding the limitations of teacher-student hierarchy and conservative teaching approaches.
Finally, we decided to provide the students with a seminar series, which we prepared in close collaboration with the teachers of the school. Interestingly, we found that the fields of synthetic biology, molecular biology and genetics were only marginally covered by the students’ curriculum. Since we also wanted to present PacMn, we decided to target these shortcomings by using our project as an example. Additionally, bioinformatics has not been introduced to the students either, so we also made sure to give a brief introduction into this broad field. Altogether, we tried to take the expectations of our team, the school and the children into account. In the first lecture we learnt that the students were quite confused and anxious about their options and future in science. Thus, next to an introduction to diverse fields, we decided to also present science as a career option.
The fact that our team members are actively studying themselves, provided the Chile class students with the opportunity to ask many questions about the different study programs. Moreover, since our team members themselves were lacking previous experience in teaching, we took the opportunity to get direct feedback from the teacher and the students. After each class, we asked the students to complete an evaluation sheet, which we went through afterwards, and tried to improve the mentioned aspects in the following classes. Additionally, we gave them some exercise questions at the end of each class to support deeper understanding. These were then discussed in the next class. Since attendance of all students could not always be ensured, we recorded the classes and made them available to all students.
Of note, the mother tongue of the school students is Spanish while our team members mainly speak German or English, with some high-school Spanish remnants. Thus, we had the opportunity to teach: “classes in all three languages and this did not cause more confusion or problems” (answer taken from all students in their evaluation sheet about our clases).
To summarize, we decided on the following objectives for our Chile class and further science communication projects (Experimenta):
  • Distinguishing different scientific fields and careers, especially taking Molecular Medicine, Bioinformatics, Nanoscience, Biochemistry and Neuroscience into account.
  • Explaining the iGEM competition and our motivation behind participating.
  • Introducing the field of synthetic biology.
  • Advancing the students’ knowledge in molecular biology and genetics by explaining bacterial cloning, protein biosynthesis and gene regulation in connection to our project.
  • Demonstrating the power of bioinformatics and its increasing impact on synthetic biology.
  • Transferring knowledge in a visual manner, while maintaining a positive learning environment for the students.

Based on these objectives, the following nine lectures were held by our team:
  1. What is synthetic Biology, and can it be applied in the field of Molecular Medicine?
  2. Is bioinformatics important and indispensable for synthetic biology?
  3. “Why do I love biochemistry and how do I contribute to the iGEM Team this year?”
  4. What is the iGEM Tübingen 2020 project?
  5. Bacterial Cloning - One of the most important techniques in our project
  6. How to write and publish a scientific paper or review?
  7. “Just because you can't see something doesn't mean it isn't there. It's just waiting for the right time to show itself.” ― Emma Hart, Never Forget
  8. Gene regulation
  9. “Neuroscience may seem complex, but if you feel passionate about it… go for it”
Conclusion
Our project focuses on heavy metal pollution and its impact on nature and health. However, environmental pollution with manganese in Europe cannot be compared with the issues of a mining country like Chile, with less regulations and environmental laws. Living in this country, the kids have a totally different experience with environmental pollution and, of course, their perspective was distinct to ours. Based on this, we adapted our idea for implementation in a way that may also be applied in less developed countries, which are usually also the countries more affected by manganese pollution.
Further, we also started a social media campaign with iGEM Stuttgart and our main inspiration were the issues these students saw in their daily life regarding heavy metal pollution and the environment.
A great share of the team was directly involved in teaching, while others helped behind the scenes with ideas, material and feedback. With this experience, we all learned something new and developed personally with new perspectives.
The project did not just finish... now it is available for everyone!
If you want to hold some classes but you lack material go to the link below. Also, if you need advice or you want us to hold a class just contact us.
Experimenta
Experimenta photo.
Experimenta is a teaching and research institution in Heilbronn (Germany) with the goal to make the world of science accessible to students and to awaken and promote their enthusiasm in this field. On an area of around 25,000 square metres, the Experimenta offers around 275 interactive exhibits, four creative studios and nine laboratories, as well as an observatory and an extraordinary science dome with spectacular science shows.
Like last year’s iGEM team Tübingen, we had planned a four-day laboratory course to introduce senior high school students to topics such as cloning, bioinformatics and primer design. Furthermore, it was important to us to give the prospective graduates an insight into the possibilities of studying in the MINT field based on our own experience, to facilitate their orientation for their studies. It was important for us to introduce the possibilities of synthetic biology to a young audience. This should be as interactive as possible with practical and theoretical parts. We planned a theoretical input in the morning followed by an afternoon program in the laboratory in order to apply the theoretical knowledge directly under guidance. Thanks to the excellent cooperation with Dr. Robert Friedrichs on site, we had already completely planned the one-week course. We were even able to take the opportunity to get an idea of the great possibilities of the Experimenta Science Center when we went to Heilbronn for a visit.
We were inconsolable when we were told of the decision to cancel the student lab course due to an increasing incidence rate of SARS-CoV-2 in the Heilbronn district. Understandably, no laboratory course could take place in attendance, as we wanted to avoid the risk of spreading infections.
We decided to revise our theoretical input and presentation to design it in a way that the content could be worked out by the students themselves. To reach the largest possible audience, we also decided to send our material upon request. In this way, even more students had the opportunity to benefit from our course.
We decided to stay in contact and to form a long-term relationship of iGEM Tübingen and the Experimenta Science Center to keep motivating students, who represent our tomorrow and future.

Conclusion and reflection

In the end, we noticed that talking and spreading science cannot only be useful to the public but also be very interesting, funny, and fulfilling to us. To improve our communication skills was one of the major benefits we gained from the iGEM experience. Prior to iGEM, many team members struggled to explain our ideas to people without a scientific background, therefore not being able to overcome the trench that is often separating scientists from the public. However, a common understanding is indispensable for novel discoveries to be accepted and thus have an impact. But during this year, we have found many ways to approach science communication - be it a serious, visual or funny approach.
How we integrated our insights from human practice in our project
“More people together may be able to solve a problem that an individual cannot” - unknown
Here, we want to summarize how our human practice work has influenced our project.
Based on the above described interview with Dr. Riedel, we deepened our knowledge in heavy metals and biosensors and most importantly, it influenced our decision on targeting manganese. Based on his publication, we found that we in fact have a local, insidious increase of manganese pollution which should not be underestimated in its impact on the environment. Consequently, his article and our interview with him initiated PacMn.
We consulted our second expert, Dr. Thiel. Thanks to Dr. Thiel, we could exclude modeling approaches which are not feasible in the limited amount of time in the course of iGEM. His advice has steered us towards Molecular Dynamics Simulation, thus guiding our dry lab in the direction it has finally taken.
Our longest human practice project related to our project and synthetic biology was the Chile class. Personally and projectwise, we consider this project an extremely fruitful and interesting collaboration. Here, we got a new and fresh perspective for our project regarding its global implementation. Prior to meeting the Chile class, our major goal for the implementation of PacMn was a silent filter system which monitors insidious changes in water quality in western countries. However, being aware of the serious demand for simple-to-use sensors for toxic pollution in structurally weak countries, we thought about further possibilities. Since we started this class while we were still in the experimental design a lot of their basic questions such as “why did you do this step”; “can't you do this instead? or “here in Chile, the situation is as follows...” helped us simplify our construct and experimental design. Finally, we later expanded on this new information by having a targeted social media campaign in collaboration with iGEM Stuttgart.