Public Engagement

Short Summary

Synthetic biology, especially genetic engineering, is often met with skepticism or a negative attitude. For our project, we wanted to reduce prejudices against synthetic biology. Furthermore, we intended to raise awareness for possible risks and effects on research projects in the lab, but also on the environment. At our workshop, one of the leading scientists for non-canonical amino acids, Prof. Dr. Nediljko Budisa, mentioned possible risks of an expanded genetic code. In this context, we realized that raising awareness for risks of genetic engineering is rarely brought up in academic studies. Therefore, we decided to investigate this issue and get in contact with students from the life sciences as well as the broader public. We learned that the best way to approach this issue is to involve the youth in synthetic biology by fostering their natural curiosity about science. This is when we decided to get involved in organization and execution of various events such as the 6th CeBiTec pupils’ academy, the teutolab, and the GENIALE. Beside minimizing the prejudices about synthetic biology and imparting curiosity for science, we also wanted to communicate responsible handling of synthetic biology for students of all life sciences. Therefore, we cooperated with the btS (biotechnical students’ initiative) and created a Biotechnology Quiz, where students can evaluate their knowledge about synthetic biology and get sensitized about biosafety issues and a responsible handling of biological research.

Biotech Quiz Show

To offer students of natural sciences related degree programs a more manifold proposal to establish their scientific knowledge and lab experience aside from their daily university routine, we designed and planned a biotech quiz show. It will be arranged as a social event at the end of the year. This competition is designed for several teams with three to five members. These teams compete against each other in three categories, including games like “refill pipette tip boxes”, “estimate colonies on a plate”, “assemble a bioreactor” and a “pipetting challenge”. The teams collect points in each game to win, and in the end, there will be an award ceremony. We organized the biotech quiz show together with the btS Bielefeld, a non-profit and independent student initiative, which sees itself as a go-between for students, universities and companies related to life sciences []. The meeting with the btS on 31th of August, where we discussed the realization of our event, helped strengthening the cooperation of the iGEM team and the btS.

Figure 1: The cooperation meeting between the iGEM team Bielefeld-CeBiTec 2017 and the btS Bielefeld. On the left: team member Yannic Kerkhoff; on the right: btS first chairman Pierre Kugler

The quiz is designed for students in the 2nd and 3rd semester of biotechnology and molecular biology. Furthermore, we will offer this game during the “introductory week” for the freshmen of the life sciences fields. We are sure that the concept of cooperating with other university related organizations to further the interaction within the space , will inspire others. We wish all future participants of our biotech quiz show great fun and good luck! You can find the full version of our presentation here. Feel free to use this as an inspiration for your own life sciences social event:

The Pupils Academy

What the pupils academy for synthetic biology is about:

The "6th CeBiTec pupils academy" took place from 24th to 28th of July, 2017. The purpose of this event is to teach synthetic biology and biotechnology to high school students with outstanding grades. This year, 20 highly motivated and interested high school students (six boys and fourteen girls) participated in the pupils academy. The program for the mostly 17-year old students was partitioned into a mixture of theoretical and experimental sections. Lectures about a broad range of topics in synthetic biology and biotechnology were held. Additionally, more interactive and reflective sessions like a discussion about the implications of CRISPR/Cas9 were part of the program. However, main aspects of the academy were the practical courses. These featured topics of synthetic biology, bioinformatics, taxonomic identifications and proteomics. In addition, an introduction into scientific work was given. Furthermore, the pupils academy was accompanied by get-togethers every evening. Pupils got into contact with (under)graduate students, PhD students, and professors.

Our impact on the pupils academy:

Figure 2: Impressions from the Pupils Academy. Top left: Presentation about iGEM. Top right: Our team members explaining the transformation via electroporation to the pupils. Bottom: Result plates from transformations with gfp and rfp.

The pupils academy was a great opportunity for us to take synthetic biology to high school students. Therefore, we organized all four practical sessions on synthetic biology. Theoretical explanations were integrated into typical experiments from synthetic biology. The students learned some basics about different transformation methods while performing heat shock as well as electroporation on their own. Moreover, plasmid isolation and analysis as well as the identification of different bacterial resistance genes were taught. Furthermore, some of the given talks featured iGEM and our project. Besides the lab work, we tried to connect to the pupils by organizing a pizza evening and being available for discussions at the get-togethers. We answered their questions about university, different studies and more, always giving some input on synthetic biology. Some weeks after the end of the academy, we organized a re-meetup to answer questions the pupils came up with in the meantime.

GENIALE - when science gets available for everyone

What the GENIALE is about:

The “GENIALE – Science Festival Bielefeld“ took place from August, 19th to 26th 2017. It is a street science festival that was initiated to make science available for everyone irrespective of academic success, age, or gender. The GENIALE is a cooperation between the city of Bielefeld and many science institutes. The festival was established in 2007, taking place the first time in 2008. Since its inventions, it took place every third year. This year, it was situated all over the city, starting at the city hall, and spreading all over the city including many science facilities. In summary, the GENIALE is a great science related festival for everyone interested in (experimental) sciences.

Our involvement in the GENIALE:

On August, 22nd and August 23rd the so-called "campus days" and the GENIALE took place at Bielefeld University. The CeBiTec laboratory building and other scientific buildings became a place of science for everyone. On these days, we provided a large science area in the foyer of the CeBiTec. With our experiments situated on many tables, we made even the youngest participants see what working in a lab (on synthetic biology) is about. Our experimental setup consisted of a variety of scientific approaches and experiments based on “fun facts” of science. Here, the children learned how to use a pipette and what their everyday usage in the lab is. Furthermore, children and adults could do a thin layer chromatography of leaves and analyze different mixtures with filters. Other experiments involved a microscope to examine algae cells from Euglena gracilis or freshly taken samples of hair. Furthermore, we also offered DNA extraction from different fruits, using only salt, dish washer detergents, water, and ethanol. All experiments were further accompanied by background information on the biological principles. We also provided take-away flyers with the most important information. Besides these more biology-based experiments, we also offered some fun experiments like the non-newtonian fluid, or secret ink, which can be easily replicated at home. Everyone was fascinated by our jewelry derived from lab equipment. We tried to limit all experiments to household- products to demonstrate how science surrounds us in our daily life. Further on, we presented posters explaining the flow of information in a cell in general, the iGEM competition and our project, always ready to answer questions on any of the topics. With our experimental setup, we could not only fascinate our youngest participants of the age of two, but also elderly ones who (re-)discovered their interest in science.

Figure (X): Team member Michelle Liebers advising children at the GENIALE.

Traineeship on biology for pupils

What the traineeship is about:

Regional traineeships on biology are organized by the teutolab, which was founded 16 years ago. The teutolab was established to enable pupils of all ages to learn extracurricular skills through independent and partly self-organized experiments. Subjects range from the natural sciences to technical areas. The internships, lasting three weeks from March, 20th to April, 7th of 2017, were planned in cooperation with a local high school and could be attended instead of ordinary school lessons. 16 highly motivated students with a great interest in molecular biology, attended the traineeship. While the first and the third week were used for excursions and preparations, the second week consisted of experiments on different biological topics. Those topics included typical biological areas explained in schools, such as the differentiation of animals and the analysis of orchids, but also covered phylogenetics and synthetic biology. Thus, this great variety enabled the pupils to find an area of interest, which may influence their choice of study. In the end, the traineeship was documented with a (private) film featuring the most interesting aspects for the students to take home.

Our impact on the traineeship:

When we were asked to support the traineeship with a program on synthetic biology and iGEM, we short handedly agreed on providing one. Thus, one complete day in the second week was completely organized and conducted by members of our team. To ensure the comprehensibility of all parts of the day, we provided an own traineeship script containing all theoretical information and all experiments. Thus, it contained information on Escherichia coli, used plasmids and vectors, transformation methods, and analysis methods like fluorescent proteins. However, also a short introduction into bioinformatics was provided and of course a lot about iGEM: BioBricks, the parts registry and the competition itself. Furthermore, all the experimental setups and methods used during that day were included. Besides experimenting and explaining their theoretical background, we were also answering questions on our different fields of study and life as students of the University Bielefeld in general. In short, we successfully provided an educational day on synthetic biology.


To present our project to students of our university and people in our region and beyond, we got in contact with the university press and published a news article about the iGEM competition, our team, and our project on the 11th September 2017. Access the English version of the article here. Following up on that, the German regional newspaper "Westfalen-Blatt Bielefeld" contacted us for an article about our work in the lab, our achievements, and our project in general. The article was published in Westfalen-Blatt no. 243 at Thursday, the 19th October 2017.

Figure 4: The article pusblished in the newspaper


Right from the start of our work, we were eager to present our team members and our project not just through news articles and social media, but also through the radio. Therefore, we met with the university radio station Hertz87.9 for two fun and informative interviews. The first one, held in January, can be accessed here (German).
The second one from July can be found here (German).

Figure (5): Team members Olga and Markus at the radio for the first interview.

Figure (6): Team member Lennard giving the second interview.

Synbio Day

On the 5th of October, iGEM Düsseldorf-Cologne hosted the SynBioDay at the University of Düsseldorf. The entire day was filled with interesting talks and discussion, including talks from Prof. Matias Zurbriggen from the Institute for Synthetic Biology, PD Dr. Marc-Denis Weitze from the German Academy of Science and Engineering, Prof. Röbbe Wünschiers from the Hochschule Mittweida as well as from Dr. Tobias Erb from the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology. Furthermore, four German iGEM teams, including our team, had the chance to present their projects to public and experts in an oral presentation. Enough time was offered during the breaks for interesting discussions and networking. All iGEM teams also had the chance to present their projects during a poster session. The event concluded with an ethics discussion, which was led by Dipl.-Pol. Christopher Coenen from the ITAS Karlsruhe. We would like to thank the team from Düsseldorf-Cologne for hosting such a great event and for giving our team the chance to present our project to the public, other iGEM teams and experts.