Collaborations with other iGEM teams is essential as it fosters communication and awareness throughout the Synthetic Biology world. Our team hosted the California iGEM Team Meet up, collaborated with the Stanford iGEM team multiple times, and met with two international teams over the summer: iGEM Paris Saclay and iGEM Moscow. These meetings were our first meet-ups with other teams and both were held over Zoom.
Connecting with Teams
Our meet up with iGEM Paris-Saclay involved casual presentations of our projects and discussion of our unique experiences conducting research during COVID-19. While America is very much on lockdown and was even more-so during July than now, the Paris team was functioning almost normally despite the pandemic. Meanwhile, our lab had a maximum capacity of two. Paris Saclay was working on a way to make genetic engineering easier for other scientists, which springboarded a conversation about the genes our team might engineer later in the summer. This meeting was a great opportunity to show our progress and learn how to present our project in a concise, but detailed manner. Bonding with another team about managing to be productive despite the pandemic also gave our team inspiration to keep trying to organize meetups.
Figure 1: iGEM Paris Saclay and iGEM UCSC 2020 meet up.
We also spoke with iGEM Moscow, who were conducting their own COVID-19 PCR testing for team members in the lab! Moscow’s team had a very formal presentation that they delivered to our team, helping us to quickly understand their project. We have grown to adopt this presentation style when attending meet-ups as it helps to organize, reflect, and communicate our project better. We’ve used similar presentations during our meetings with schools, deans, and investors.
During this meet-up, we expressed that we hadn’t been able to find a chemical that crystallized cellulose, which is important for reducing its rigidity. Dasha, a member of the iGEM Moscow team, encouraged us to look into proteins that could help decrystallize cellulose. After this meeting, we learned about carbohydrate-binding modules, CBMs, that function to decrystallize cellulose! Dasha’s tip led us to explore another track of our project and got us closer to our goal. Meet-ups like this one exhibit the importance of collaborations with other iGEM teams and how talking to others can help shape and mature a research project. Our meeting with Moscow helped evolve our project to what it is today!
Figure 2: iGEM Moscow and iGEM UCSC 2020 meet up.
This year we had the opportunity to have a virtual meetup with the Stanford iGEM Team over Zoom. We talked with them throughout the summer about their project and gave each other updates on the progress. Talking to Stanford was comforting knowing we were all experiencing the same effects of COVID-19 and the California fires. Stanford has been working on its project called SEED: Self-replicating Embedded Environmental Diagnostic. We are extremely excited to see their project at the Jamboree. Stanford helped our team realize that we wanted to host a California Meetup to meet more teams from our state. Through their encouragement, we were able to officially organize our California iGEM Team Meetup.
Hosting a Meetup
To cultivate a sense of community within the California iGEM teams, we searched through the list of competing iGEM teams and discovered there were only 7 teams across our state. To connect with the teams, we decided to host a meetup via Zoom to talk about our projects and check-in with our fellow Californians. We emailed the California teams and officially called our meetup the "California Meetup". We were fortunate to host UC Davis Spore_Core and Stanford.
The teams presented their projects and gave feedback on our topics. One major discussion topic was how we were managing despite the COVID-19 pandemic and how we could assist each other. This conversation led our team to a collaboration with Spore_Core on educational outreach. We presented at Soquel High School and the Science and Technology Intensive Program (STIP) at the Kirby Prep School where, after every presentation, we took notes and sent them to Spore_Core so they could learn from our experiences. We also shared our presentation slides and gave them tips on how to write an effective and interactive presentation.