- As our software aims to improve the field of synthetic biology by increasing the availability of fungal parts, Spore_Core aims to expand the community by increasing interest in synthetic biology. This goal was made possible by Saddleback College, Nevada Union High School, and the collaborative efforts of a handful of other like-minded iGEM teams.
The Saddleback Presentation
- On September 30th, we presented our research, and the research of other teams (Moscow-Russia, UC Santa Cruz, Stanford, and UC San Diego’s 2018 project) to a general biology class at a community college in Mission Viejo, CA (remotely).
- We asked the students to raise their hands if they had heard of synthetic biology before. Surprisingly, not a single hand was raised. The same response was observed when we asked them if they had heard of bioinformatics. So, we presented our research to them as an introduction to these two fields: bioinformatics, and synthetic biology.
- We did our best to engage the students, difficult as that is over a screen-share, by describing our project and the projects of our collaborators with them, and displaying the promotional video created by Stanford, as well as our own. We also shared a demonstration of our software tools, and encouraged the students to look into making an iGEM team of their own.
- A consistent theme that we tried to make apparent in our presentation was that we wanted them to take action. We wanted them to be interested enough in the research we presented, so that they would be encouraged to start their own iGEM team. We even spoke with an experienced journalist about effective communication, and implemented the tips she gave us in our presentation. For example: we related synthetic biology to the students by providing hypothetical solutions that could be solved by them in the future, we gave a very clear three-point introduction, and we framed the conclusion as a call-to-action. These were all suggestions from our journalist, Ms. Kleist.
- Through the second week of October, we presented to six classes at Nevada Union High School. The classes were as follows: Earth and Space Science (two classes), Physics (two classes), AP Physics, and AP Chemistry. We showed the same presentation as with Saddleback, but modified for the younger audience. We also added a kahoot quiz, following a recommendation by UC Santa Cruz.
- We provided our wiki link and emails to each class so that the students could directly ask us any questions they had about iGEM and/or research in these fields. We have already seen a few students reach out as a result, and our ultimate goal is to see two new iGEM teams competing at next year’s jamboree.
- We are very thankful to the other teams who helped with this presentation. UC Santa Cruz set up a virtual meeting with us and Stanford. Here, they presented their project to us and allowed us to share it with Saddleback College as an example.
- Stanford also presented to us, allowed us to share their project, and also provided us with access to their promo video, which introduced the students to synthetic biology’s role in disease diagnostics. They also offered to help beta-test some of our software tools.
- Moscow-Russia created a short video for us, explaining PCR. We used this to show an example of a standard genetics technique, something that we couldn’t have done without them, because of lab closures in our state.
- Lastly, to demonstrate how some iGEM teams became start-ups, we shared the story of UC San Diego’s 2018 team, Epinoma, who built a cancer diagnostic tool to improve liquid biopsy testing. The interview we conducted with Epinoma’s team-lead can be found here.
The Nevada Union High School Presentations
- When presenting our research, we tried to imagine what we wondered about synthetic biology and bioinformatics when we first heard about them. For me, bioinformatics was inseparable from words like “math”, “computation”, and “algorithm”. As a biology major, these words were deterrents for me. So, we approached the subject cautiously. We gave a quick, simple demonstration of our software, while reminding the students that none of us were highly experienced coders. When we showed our promo video, we made a calculated effort to explain our terminology, keeping everything as simple as possible.
- We also thought about what questions we might have had regarding synthetic biology, the main one being, “How could I get started?” We began, of course, by explaining what synthetic biology is. Then, we introduced the importance of reading literature to find an interest, followed by the engineering design cycle (Research → Imagine → Design → Build → Test → Learn → Improve → and continue Research), which we built our own experimental design upon. Thirdly, we demonstrated our software tools, and followed up with our call-to-action.
- We see the iGEM and synthetic biology community as a wealth of knowledge and opportunity. Expanding the members of this community is valuable, not just to the scientists within it, but to the world, which will get to experience the fruits of it’s effort. We all discovered this community through collaboration and communication, and projects that continue the trend of science communication are helping to make the community bigger, more productive, more creative, and more knowledgeable for the future.