Silver Medal Human Practice
The NTU iGEM Team was honored to have been given the opportunity to conduct a series of three hands-on public workshops at the One North Festival, an annual event which is jointly organized by the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) and JTC Corporation. The two-day Festival aims to celebrate research, innovation, creativity, and enterprise and allows the public to gain knowledge about new advancements in these fields through participation in various interactive booths, tours, and hands-on activities. This year’s theme was centered around “pioneering an innovative future for all”, with a focus on the areas of Future Health, Future Living and Future Work.
We agreed that the theme of Future Health was particularly relevant to our iGEM project since we have focused on the potential of CRISPR to be used as a precision tool to target genetic diseases. Additionally, we have noted that there has been a rise in public interest in understanding the various applications of CRISPR-Cas9 due to various recent high-profile research advancements in the field.
Hence, our workshop aimed to achieve the following key goals:
- To share about how CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to achieve safe and precise DNA editing
- To encourage participants to think about the possible ethical implications when utilising CRISPR technology
- To inspire participants to develop a greater appreciation of the many exciting potential applications of CRISPR-Cas9
As the participants ranged widely in educational level and background, our team was challenged to present our knowledge in a way that would be engaging and understandable for all. Our team decided that the best workshop format would be a clear and direct PowerPoint presentation, covering some basic Biology such as the central dogma, a brief history of CRISPR-Cas9 followed by an in-depth study of how CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to accurately edit genes. We also 3D-printed Cas9 protein and sgRNA model. The participants could play with the model, while at the same time had an imagination how Cas9 looks like. We also touched upon some ethical issues of gene editing, for example in GMO crops or “designer” babies, when interacting with the participants.
The 3D printed Cas9 (left) with the guide RNA (right).
Our presentation was further coupled with an interactive segment in which participants tried their hand at applying the information learned to try to “cure” a disease, sickle cell anemia. We utilized 3D printed and handmade “Lego blocks” for this activity, in which participants were required to fit various homology arm blocks to the target sequence block to form the correct insert sequence, to ensure that they could successfully perform “gene editing” to treat sickle cell anemia. The participants were divided into small groups and our team members were assigned to each group to facilitate discussion and interaction amongst the group members, providing guidance and explanation wherever necessary.
The DNA block our team designed for the workshop
We concluded the workshop by introducing additional interesting applications of CRISPR-Cas9, such as CRISPRi, to inspire our participants to explore deeper into the different possibilities of CRISPR technology. Finally, we obtained some feedback of our workshops from our participants via an online survey, to better understand their backgrounds and to learn how we could improve the workshop material and flow.
We are pleased to report that all our participants indicated that their understanding of CRISPR-Cas9 had improved through our workshop. Additionally, the majority of our participants displayed confidence in the safety of this technology, with more than half willing to consider CRISPR-Cas9 as a treatment option for genetic diseases. Our team was also able to hear more about the various opinions the public has towards gene editing and any of their concerns or inhibitions through these workshops, which has galvanized us to continue spreading accurate information about gene editing to others.