Synthetic biology is something everybody seems to have heard about, but no one knows exactly what it is. We decided to bring it closer to the future generations of scientists by contacting with several schools and we had the awesome opportunity to give them some virtual lessons about how synthetic biology works and even to carry out an easy experiment.
Particularly, we worked with students from 15 to 17 years old from the high school IES Pirámide in Huesca, Spain. We aimed to show them the principles of synthetic biology but also to create an interactive space where we could all learn from each other, this meant a big challenge due to the circumstances (schools were closed in the pandemic) which we tried to overcome by using Nearpod, a free platform that allowed us to make the online experience more collaborative. Thus, not only we could talk with them in a virtual way but also, we could use collaborative boards where everybody could come up with ideas, live polls, or small games such as relating pairs.
What did we teach in our informative talks?
First of all, students were given a bit of an introduction to synthetic biology (despite we were surprised with the knowledge they already had!) so we could follow with interesting real-life examples. We talked to them about how GMO corn is produced thanks to tools of synthetic biology, corn was picked as an example so they could feel it familiar to them since actually the school is located in one of the regions that produces more GMO corn in Spain. Moreover, we also found interesting to disseminate about the clinical applications of synthetic biology, to do so we tried to explain in a understandable way for them the amazing clinical trials that are being carried out this year to revert a hereditary blindness disorder (Leber’s congenital amaurosis 10). What is more, taking advantage of this example we could slightly introduce to them CRISPR, we hope they now recognize it when they hear about it in the news!
After this exposition of examples, we proposed them to throw their ideas to our collaborative board, so we could comment them all together. This yielded from less feasible (and a bit crazy) ideas from the youngest ones such us changing the color of the sky (probably our enthusiasm when explaining synthetic biology led them to think that it is more powerful than what it is, but who knows!) to more reasonable ideas like treating coronavirus, regenerating tissues after suffering burns, decontamination... Independently of the ideas we were delighted with the eagerness that they showed during all the task!
Finally, we enjoyed of a simple experiment of extraction and visualization of DNA with them. Since each one had to do it from its house, we should consider two important things, it must be safe, and it must use materials that anyone can find at home. Considering this we decided to perform the extraction of DNA from the saliva (other options like strawberries may work better but are not always found in all the houses so we decided to avoid differences) using riskless resources like salt, soap and alcohol. We expected it to be a bit of a chaos since it entailed controlling the experiments of many children at the same time via Google Meet, but with the help of the teachers we could deal with it really well. In fact, students were excited with the results and in the final survey when we asked what we could do to improve the lessons many of them wanted to include more experiments!
Here we attached all the educational materials that we used and give to the students including a brief explanation of the accomplished experiment.
*Note: the attached document is written in our local languages: Spanish and Catalan.
“CHARLAS IN SILICO” – PODCAST SESSIONS
During quarantine, online content consumption grew exponentially, and observing this we thought about how we could get closer to the society. After this, we decided to create “Charlas in silico”, a podcast with video recording that we did in live through the trending platform, Twitch. This platform allowed us to make our podcast also interactively, because we were able to react to the messages that our viewers left in the chat and make questions to them too.
We used this tool to introduce topics related with synthetic biology but mixing it with funny topics to made it attractive and interesting for our audience. For example, we talked about how to create the Star Wars clone army using current biology and technology tools.
It is important to say that the most part of our chapters were performed in Spanish to make local dissemination. Then we wanted to make it become a part of our collaboration, so we tried to find Spanish speakers in other iGEM teams and invited them to collaborate in our podcast showing their project and performing an interview with us.
Furthermore, we recorded the live program and uploaded it after to our Youtube channel. You can find all the chapters in the following link to watch them as many times as you want.
PRBB Open Day
We have had the opportunity to work and become part of the PRBB, Biomedical Research Park of Barcelona, because our university gave us a space where we could develop our project. Every year, this research center celebrates an Open Day to show the labs from different departments and do some activities with the families and the people that come. But this year, COVID-19 interfered in their plans and it has become completely online. To do so, they asked all the labs to record and edit different videos, a tour of our lab and a video where we explain our failed experiments. Then, they only selected a few ones. This way, we took the opportunity to share our work with the society and the science community too.
Finally, we decided to produce our videos and participate in both categories, and we are delighted to announce that one of them was selected and shown in the event.
Experimental material in education
Acknowledging the promising results of our IMT3_sfGFP, we were asked if all the material we generated could be used since it was a great example of design and characterization of a protein biosensor. Indeed, our sensor and experiment materials will be used for the UPF workshop in the BIYSC summer camp organized by Fundació la Pedrera.