Team:UC Chile/Frontier Seminar


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High school teachers Frontier of Biology seminar

To get a high and permanent impact on Chilean education, we decided to show Synthetic Biology to school teachers, so they can transfer the knowledge to their students and therefore through generations. That's why we got a group of teachers coming to our University to have an update about different undergoing research topics of the Deparment of Biology and Biochemistry, especially about SynBio. They listened and asked about the presentations and also visited our laboratory. At the end, they were really thankful for the experience and some of them invited us to do presentations in their schools.

Unfortunately, there is not great support for developing science and technology in Chile yet. This can be easily observed in elementary and high school education, where there are not many programs to improve the quality of scientific teaching at these levels.

So, our team wanted to develop a Human Practice focused on High School education. A Human Practice with a high impact and of permanent learning.

The challenge was: “How can we generate a significant experience that can be maintained in time?”

A good idea would have been to work with High School students, like many iGEM teams have done in the past, but when thinking about this question and how to get the best impact on society more thoughtfully, we realized that all of our team members had had a direct influence to choose their scientific vocation directly from their high school teachers. So, we concluded that it would be better to consider teachers than students, after all, they are the ones in charge of transferring knowledge to the younger generations

In Chile, the average number of students per classroom is 35; this implies that one teacher can talk about synthetic biology to an average of 280 children per year (The average number of children per class are between 35. Each professor teaches four diferent levels of Biology. The average number of classes per level, in Chile, are 2). If we raise the number of teachers to 50 we can reach 14.000 children per year. Knowing that a teacher works for approximately 40 years, the maximum numbers of stundents increase to 560.000. Because of that, we think that this group is a major target to efficiently divulge Synthetic Biology.

In order to reach this goal, 45 biology teachers from different parts of the country were invited to participate in “En la frontera de la Biología” (The frontiers of Biology). The idea of this workshop was to show them some of the research being done at the “Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile” and to tell them about Synthetic Biology and its applications.

Four lectures were given about different research topics of the Faculty of Biology: Cell Biology, Physiology, Ecology and Genetics. The main lecture was about Synthetic Biology, in which professor Rodrigo Gutierrez, our advisor, showed a global vision of the novel issues of this discipline, technical advances, laboratory methodologies, biotechnology, medicine, fuels and food industries, and of course about the iGEM competition.

After that, they received a booklet (made by us) with the basic topics, definitions, laboratory techniques, and philosophical issues about Synthetic Biology.

We also made a tour of our laboratory. The teachers could see the machines we commonly use such as thermal cyclers, centrifuges, laminar flow hoods, microscopes, amongst others, and more advanced ones like the microarrays readers, q-PCRs and Illumina sequencing machines.

We explained these techniques step by step: how to make a genetic construct using SynBio techniques like Gibson Assembly, PCR, electrophoresis to analyze and isolate the corresponding bands, the Gibson Assembly reaction, transformation of competent cells and the selection of positive colonies.
We also showed them bacteria with classic iGEM biobricks like pigments and chromophores, and took them to the dark room where they could stare at bacteria with bioluminescence.

We are proud to communicate that at the end of the day we received very good comments. There wasdiscussion about which tools are the appropriate ones to teach Synthetic Biology in schools and how we can bring this topic to the classroom. Also, teachers invited us to go and give lectures ofSynthetic Biology in their school science fairs.

All of them mentioned that they did not know about Synthetic Biology. They were very happy with the activity and thanked us for this new experience. They expressed their interest to participate in another conference to increase even further their knowledge in Synthetic Biology and to be able to mention it in their classes.

Check out the pictures of “En la frontera de la Biología” in our photo gallery.