The cost of capital equipment for Synthetic Biology Labs can be prohibitive in certain sectors of research. Labs in developing nations, new universities and high schools struggle with the very real costs of purchasing equipment including gel electrophoresis equipment, micropipettes, thermocycler, autoclave, microcentrifuge, refrigerated centrifuge, refrigerator, freezer, ultra-low freezer, incubators, spectrophotometers, plate readers, among others. These costs don't include the consumable supplies. This is a limiting factor in the development of new synbio ideas.
Equipment like this nanodrop can easily cost over $10,000
Lambert was inspired to develop some alternatives for expensive capital equipment: a minimal cost centrifuge inspired by the Prakash Lab PaperFuge, and the self-designed Chrome-Q and software app. The team hopes that these alternatives will aid underfunded labs, such as high schools like themselves, and allow research to continue despite funding constraints.
Last year, Lambert iGEM was granted several Foldscopes from the Prakash Lab at Stanford. These were an exciting development and were a springboard for the design team. The team contacted the lab this past Spring about their low-cost centrifuges called the PaperFuge. Dr. Saad Bhamla, then a Postdoctoral student and now an Assistant Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, shared both PaperFuge and 3-D printed fuge designs. Over the course of the year, Lambert was able to make modifications to one particular 3-D design that accommodates PCR tubes. The changes they made increased the ease of inserting tubes, and they believe will decrease the air resistance. Lambert iGEM is waiting for access to a high-speed camera to verify the speed increases. The 3-D printed fuge is able to successfully pellet cells in 3 minutes of rotation time using the new model.
Last year the team prototyped a chamber to standardize light conditions in an attempt to quantify RGB values from chromoproteins. This year the team was determined to get a working model accompanied by software to analyze the data. Throughout the course of the year, five different prototypes were developed, evaluated and improved through a collaboration with Michael Gibson of Gibson Ridge Software. With each prototype, they tested the device and applied engineering principles to improve the design. Lambert iGEM developed two Chrome-Q domes optimized for both Android and Apple mobile devices. The Chrome-Q and companion software are low-cost alternatives to a plate reader. Instead of using fluorescent reporters, the system uses chromoproteins reporters. The Chrome-Q chamber standardizes light conditions with an aperture adjusted for both iPhone and Android cameras, the base allows for comparisons of up to 25 samples at a time, and the software captures the RGB values of the samples and analyzes them in the HSV color space. The HSL values are then normalized using CFU's on standard overnight growth plates.
Throughout the year Lambert engaged in conversations and activities concerning ethics.
Engineering Design Principles
Lambert iGEM used engineering design principles to modify their project. In order to improve the Chrome-Q, the team consulted with Mr. Gibson, the CEO and founder of Gibson Ridge Software. After receiving feedback, the team applied new changes to the Chrome-Q in order to fix previous mistakes. This correlates with the Engineering Principles because they were able to change certain aspects of the device based on error analysis.
The progression of Chrome-Q's from right to left
The Lambert iGEM team attended and presented at Maker Faire in Atlanta, Georgia. The team introduced the project to people of all ages, specifically focusing on protein degradation and quantifying data using a new device they constructed called the Chrome-Q. After describing the overview of the project, they asked the public, “Why is biology important to you?”
Call with Dr. Saad Bhamla
Lambert iGEM discussed their progress with the 3-D fuge in the project with Dr. Saad Bhamla, a new Georgia Tech professor who was a part of the Prakash Lab at Stanford University. Dr. Bhamla also assisted with some details so the team could improve their own device, the Chrome-Q, to be more fundamental. The progress with these low-cost appliances help contribute to underfunded labs.
Team members FaceTiming with Dr. Bhamla
Femme in STEM
As a part of the Women in STEM club led by iGEM members, the team prepared a brunch called “Femme in STEM.” This brunch allowed both teachers and students at Lambert High School to delve more into fields in STEM without feeling restricted due to gender roles in society. Lambert iGEM also was able to discuss their project this year to promote iGEM and biotechnology at the high school.
The iGEM women on International Women's Day
Underfunded Lab Survey
Lambert iGEM created an underfunded lab survey in order to get opinion's from different iGEM teams on their perspective of what "underfunded" meant and what they consider themselves (adequately-funded or underfunded) in the context of their opinion. The results are shown below. Anonymity of responses is intact.