Team:Utah State/Outreach


Engineering State 2013

One of the best opportunities to provide outreach to high school students is during the annual Engineering State program held at Utah State University every June. This year, our team was fortunate enough to lead sessions attended by over 140 students from five states. Two separate sessions were set up to allow the students to learn more about synthetic biology as well as introduce them to the iGEM competition.

During the first session, students were shown a video of the Dan Rather Reports, which outlined the recent breakthroughs in synthetic biology, including a section on the 2012 iGEM competition. The video was stopped periodically to ask the students questions and allow them to ask questions to our team as well.

For the second session, our team designed an activity to better teach the students the procedure of creating BioBricks using simple cloning techniques. Paper bracelets, which represented plasmid DNA, were made containing either a spider silk gene sequence or a GFP gene sequence. The sequence was bookended by the restriction sites EcoR1/Xba1 and Spe1/Pst1, which were represented by different colors and lines. Scissors were labeled with letters corresponding to each restriction site (E, X, S and P) and represented the restriction enzymes. Tape rolls were labeled to represent ligase.

The student’s goal was to create a construct with a spider silk unit followed by a GFP insert. By labeling each of the "restriction sites" with different colors/lines, it was much more simplistic to illustrate how these pieces could be taped back together to either regenerate the restriction site(E site with E site yielded the same color and line shape) or create a scar site (S site with X site matched in line shape but were different colors). Once finished, it was explained how this process could be repeated to create longer silk repeating constructs and how GFP was used as a reporter gene to allow us to tell if spider silk is being produced.

After this activity, the students were taken on a tour of our lab to walk them through each step of the cloning process. Each station had preparations that could be shown to the tour group such as a spun down culture tube and a GFP producing spider silk agar plate.

After each session, a survey with a series of questions was handed out to the students to see what the thought of the activities. Approximately 61% of students claimed that they had a more favorable opinion of synthetic biology after attending our session. About 69% of students said that they now had an interest in the iGEM competition. When asked the most useful potential applications for synthetic biology, most students answered that they felt the biomedical applications would be most useful. A more detailed chart from this response can be seen below.

Discover Biological Engineering

Members of our team also spoke to high school students at the 2013 Discover Biological Engineering program in July. Students interested in joining the Biological Engineering department at USU attend this event to learn more about the program. This event featured a series of talks of various topics led by faculty and students in the department. The USU iGEM team held a 1-hour session to talk about synthetic biology and the iGEM competition. Topics included a summary of synthetic biology, an overview of iGEM and USU’s participation in years past, and a discussion on this year’s project. Students were given time to ask questions and were informed about how to get involved in iGEM in the future. A lab tour was also provided to show the students where the work for iGEM and other projects is carried out.


From our outreach sessions we had high schools student participate from a wide variety of states including: Utah, Idaho, Nevada, California, and Texas.

High school map


During the outreach sessions we also conducted a survey to ask the high school students questions pertinent to Synthetic Biology.

1. What is the name of the high school you attend? ___________________

2. Do the benefits of synthetic biology outweigh the costs?

3. After attending this session how has your opinion of synthetic biology changed?
--More Favorable
--Stayed the Same
--Less Favorable

4. Has this session made you interested in iGEM?

5. What do you think is the most useful potential application for synthetic biology?
--Environmental Clean-up