Human Practices: Exploratorium

Teaching Synthetic Biology to the General Public: Usually the general public relates “synthetic biology” (or more commonly, “Biotechnology”) with “Genetically Modified Organism,” a current ethically-charged term concerning genetic engineering of the food that we consume every day. The 2013 UCSF iGEM team thought it was of paramount importance to begin by educating citizens on the basics of molecular biology and synthetic biology before delving into the intricacies of genetic and synthetic modifications. We wanted to change the perspective many have toward synthetic biology by introducing the basic ideas of Synthetic Biology in a special evening event at the San Francisco Exploratorium.

The Exploratorium ( is a museum dedicated to various science-related exhibits aimed at teaching science and its practical applications as well as inspiring learning by self-discovery in its guests. The night event is an 18-and-older event that approximately four to five thousand people attend the first Thursday of each month. Each event revolves around a unique theme, and we presented our work on synthetic biology under the theme of Transformations. The transformations exhibited ranged from origami folding to metamorphosis to ice cutting, and our focus was on micro-transformations in cells. In accordance with the theme, our team presented information involving genetic transformation in order to show the benefits of synthetic biology and the many applications it can have in the future.

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Micro-Transformations, Macro Changes: The goal of our exhibit was to provide relatable information about the general techniques scientists use every day in the laboratory. We presented brief “elevator talks,” broken down into two topics to more clearly present the information to the public. The first talk explained the Central Dogma of Biology, where DNA is transcribed into mRNA, and mRNA translated into protein. The second elevator talk was about the execution of transformation in molecular biology and the basic experimental concepts, while also giving real life examples of how it is used as an application. In addition to our presentations, we gave away synthetic biology informational bookmarks and scientific temporary tattoos, and brought culture plates with E. coli transformed with GFP and RFP for visual demonstration of transformations in cells.

The UCSF iGEM team interacts with patrons at the Exploratorium: After Dark event