Team:Macquarie Australia/Education



High School - Workshop

Background- To educate and excite high school students about synthetic biology, we planned a 55 minute workshop to take to different schools. As part of this workshop we performed a basic DNA extraction from strawberries to make the class more interactive and engaging to the students. We also gave a short introductory talk to introduce the field of synthetic biology and a codon optimization challenge to present some issues faced in the lab. Finally we finished with a group discussion where the students were we asked what they would like to design/ make using synthetic biology and then to consider any ethic or legal issues that might be faced with this. They were also given this time to ask any questions they might have regarding to anything covered during the class.

On the 6th September a team consisting of Kirsten Gadsby, Rijata Sharma, Chris Steel and Diana Ubiparipovic visited Davison High School to present this workshop to the Year 11 Chemistry class. The following week on the 13th September the same team visited Loreto Kirribilli to present to a Year 10 science class. On both these days we also gave each student a short survey both before and after the workshop, the results of which can be seen below. In total these workshops were attended by 44 students.


Although 11 students had heard of synthetic biology before the workshop a majority of students had never heard of it or thought it sounded familiar. After the workshop only one student still believed they did not know what synthetic biology was, however this was also followed by a comment saying they did learn more about it then they previously knew.

As would be expected, most students were not sure whether synthetic biology would have risks, ethical concerns or should be regulated, as most had not heard of the field. However it was interesting to see that after the workshop at total of 7 students believe there would be no ethical concerns or risks associated with synthetic biology and 2 students thought it would not need to be regulated.

Once again, unsurprisingly, a majority of students did not know whether this field would be part of the future as they had not heard of it, however it was nice to see every student did think synthetic biology would be a part of the future.

It was interesting to see, of the total 44 students in attendance over both workshops, 6 students did believe that ordinary tomatoes don’t have genes but genetically modified tomatoes do, however the other 38 students did not believe this. At the conclusion of the workshop all 44 students did believe their understanding of synthetic biology had improved.

University - Second Year Lecture

Background- To introduce the field of synthetic biology to university students, both Kirsten and Diana presented a 20 minute lecture in a second year Molecular Biology course at your university. During this talk we introduced the basic principles of synthetic biology and linked it to the concepts of genetic engineering, a process they were currently doing in their practical classes. Additionally, we discussed some of the techniques used in synthetic biology and our project, including the concepts of BioBricks and Gibson Assembly. Prior to our talk, we gave out a question to each student to assess their previous knowledge of synthetic biology, some of the most interesting answers can be seen below. Furthermore, after the lecture we asked a multiple choice question about the definition of synthetic biology to see whether their understanding had improved.

Results- The lecture was attended by 24 students and before the lecture, students were asked “What is synthetic biology? in 1-2 sentences”. The answers received followed four different themes, as shown below.

Some of the most interesting responses received included:
Synthesising different substances in a lab setting e.g. drug

The process in synthetically engineering the DNA code and to create and manipulate the base pair sequence and get the wanted proteins expressed

Synthesis of various materials/ microorganisms to produce a product of benefit

Replicating biological systems with non-biological components

Finally, after the lecture when asked “Now, what is synthetic biology?”, all students answered correctly with the answer c).
a) The direct manipulation of an organism’s genome or the insertion of DNA into a host after first being isolated and copied from an organism

b) A mechanical or virtual agent, usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry

c) The design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems and the re-design of existing natural biological systems for useful purposes

We also were able to put a question in the mid-semester exam of this course. When asked:

"Gibson Assembly is?"
a) A DNA hybridisation method

b) Recombination of homologous DNA

c) A method for jointing overlapping DNA fragments

d) A stage in Polymerase Chain Reaction in DNA amplification

e) A step in production of Gibson guitars

A total of 62 students answered correct c) of the total 86 students enrolled in the unit.

Video - Introductory lecture about synthetic biology to 2nd year molecular biology students