iGEM Dundee 2013 · ToxiMop

Café Scientifique
Café Scientifique is a worldwide initiative event which makes science and current research more accessible to the public. During this event scientists present their research in an approachable manner which gives the public a unique opportunity to engage with the people behind the white coats, and discourages from believing in media myths while seeking the expert’s opinion.

We took part in Café Science Dundee, and presented our project to the public at the Dundee Science Centre. With synthetic biology being such a ground breaking new field, it is of great importance to introduce it in a positive light and to encourage the understanding of its positive power.

The foundation of our project lies in the heart of the local community and hence it was a great opportunity to showcase synthetic biology as a feasible solution to the closure of Clatto Reservoir and other local sites. We used the opportunity as a means to encourage the public to ask questions, give them an insight into what we do, and also to involve them in saving our local reservoirs.

Targeting High Schools
2013 is the first year in which the UK has had a team enter the iGEM High School division. We hope that this will encourage more schools to join in and get as excited about the possibilities of synthetic biology as we are. As a result, we took on the job of encouraging local schools to get involved.

The University of Dundee works closely with Grove Academy, a high school in Broughty Ferry (near Dundee), to promote science in schools. We visited Grove Academy in a bid to educate students about the capabilities of microorganisms, how they work and why they are used. The students really enjoyed the experience and were very excited to use a microscope and to see microorganisms they had only heard about/seen in books before. We may even have our first Scottish High School iGEM team!

Targeting Undergraduate Students
In 2011, the University of Dundee introduced a new improved curriculum for the College of Life Sciences. Within this curriculum, an opportunity was presented to involve students in a practical laboratory exercise similar to iGEM.

In this practical, students would design and engineer their own constructs using BioBricks from The Registry of Standard Biological Parts. The main objective of such an exercise is to encourage students to think independently and give them confidence in their laboratory skills.

This year, the iGEM-styled practical had its first run and encountered many problems throughout the semester. One of the main concerns was the high costs of running the operation which affected the cloning stage. There was also a significant problem with the use of the iGEM vector plasmid pSB1C3, which proved tricky to work with. For cost reasons associated with running the practical, the pSB1C3 plasmid could not be gel extracted or phosphatase treated resulting in the original insert, rhodopsin, re-ligating back into the vector at high frequency.

To overcome this, we have engineered a small insert that contains SpeI and XbaI sites creating an “empty” vector that would allow students use either traditional cloning or the 3A assembly method if desired. This means that our vector does not need to be purified and the chances of re-cloning the original insert are much lower ensuring a smoother and cheaper run of the iGEM practical.

This practical exercise is a great way to encourage students to explore the field of synthetic biology. We also presented our iGEM project to all of the current undergraduate students, emphasising the great experience we have had and how advantageous doing a summer project can be to your future career in science.

Dundee Tech Meet Up
The Dundee Tech Meet Up is a monthly meet up for tech and creative peoples in Dundee and the surroundings areas who are interested in technology. Each month the event has a variety of individuals or teams providing presentations outlining the use of technology in their recent projects.

Presentations range from the hurdles faced by individuals involved in the projects to teams working on developing solutions over the course of years, and occasionally groups of students make presentations on projects they completed for fun.

Looking at the challenges of implementing technological solutions is important however the event also focuses on open discussion and feedback to critique projects in order to make improvements. The Dundee University iGEM team presented the Moptopus in which we used technology such as Arduino's, Raspberry Pi's and various sensors to help remove harmful toxins from algal blooms! This provided a unique perspective on the project as it was the first time at a Tech Meet Up Event that Synthetic Biology was presented alongside a technological solution to a problem. To discuss the project in a positive way and to promote understanding of the problem, we provided a crash course in biology related to the project before explain the technical aspects.

Graphic Novel
We wanted to ensure that the general public fully understood what our project was tackling and how we intended to go about it. We realised that the research so far was aimed at an audience with a scientific background and that we had nothing which would allow the public an insight into synthetic biology. That was when we came up with the idea of creating a comic book for both the local community and for other iGEM teams. We have found that it has been a big hit for all ages and disciplines and allowed for a greater understanding across a wider range of people.

Dr Chris Murray is a lecturer in Comics Studies at the University of Dundee. He was very impressed with our ‘ToxiMop’ comic and had this to say:

“Comics are an extremely versatile medium for telling all kinds of stories, and have an appeal that spans all ages. This is demonstrated by Toximop, a comic created by the University of Dundee's iGem team who are participating in the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition. The team approached Avril Smart to draw the comic based on their work. With tongue in cheek and a playful style the comic tells the story of how the citizens of Biofilm City combat the evil algae that has contaminated their lake. The University of Dundee's rector, Brian Cox, guest stars as the town major, leading the battle, with the help of a detective straight out of CSI, and Conan the Bacterium, but it falls to a lowly janitor to save the city with his trusty mop, and a strain of engineered ecoli which binds to the toxin in the algae, rendering it harmless. This simple but engaging story communicates the science in a way that makes it fun and comprehensible to the average reader, and especially younger ones, which is a commendable goal. The iGem team, and Avril Smart, have done a great job bringing together science and comics in this publication. I hope to see other publications like this emerging through collaborations with Life Sciences and the Humanities. As C.P. Snow argued, these two cultures (pun intended) have much to gain from one another.”

We strongly encourage you to take a look!

Video Game
There is something about the uniquely interactive and immersive nature of games that makes them a powerful tool for learning and engagement. This year, the team collaborated with a group of game design students studying at the University of Abertay, Dundee to bring some comedy and entertainment from the ToxiMop bacteria in the form of a flash game. Although the game does not represent any of the real physical actions of the ToxiMop, it was created to bring some entertainment to younger audiences and some respite from serious talk for the older. Please, have a go!

Social Media
Social media is a generic term used to describe a range of online applications that enable and encourage interactive communication between users worldwide. The multiple social media platforms we used encouraged users to take part, whether through commenting or ‘tweeting’, and allowed for conversing with the team to give them feedback or collaboration ideas. As well as having conversations and giving opinions, users can share information. This can have a powerful amplification effect where articles, videos or images are shared between thousand or even millions of people. The main social media sites we used were:

Facebook has 1.15 billion[1] users worldwide. Many organisations use Facebook as a method of interacting with a wider audience. We utilised Facebook as a tool to interact with our audience using a conversational approach and to keep followers up to date with what the team were currently doing.

Twitter is a vast, web-based messaging network where users can send messages to people who are interested in what they have to say (followers) or interested in a specific topic (# tagging). As with Facebook, we used an informal approach to keep our followers and the iGEM community well-informed about our team and project.

YouTube is a free website devoted to viewing, sharing and commenting on video clips. The Dundee iGEM team used YouTube to share our weekly video logs.

Github is the best place to share code with its user base of over 4 million. It allows individuals and teams to write better code, faster and to make it available instantly. All of the code developed by the team is available on github.


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