Integrated Human Practice
Antibiotic research and antibiotics provided the foundation for this year's project. Most people are affected by antibiotics and their influence on the environment. This revealed multiple options of human practice, in the context of research, education, and society.
Our project grants access to an evolving field of research: taking a class of antibiotics and improving its features by modifying compounds biochemically as well as chemically. This concept isn’t new but has yet to be realised. The biggest hurdle has proved to be the lack of funding which keeps companies and research facilities from taking on the task. Therefore, we were eager to show with our project exemplary that the antibiotic class of aminocoumarins can rather easily be modified with the means of synthetic biology. We hope that our research puts a focus on the pressing matter of antibiotic resistances bringing us closer to solutions for the rising amount of resistant pathogens.
Even while arranging our project we considered our concept of human practice by paying particular attention to biosafety and lab safety. To provide an example of these concerns, we encountered problems during the design of an appropriate test system for our newly developed antibiotic. Our antibiotic targets mostly pathogens of the BSL 2 level like Staphylococcus aureus. This contrasted our decision at the beginning of the project to only work in the BSL 1 level, as we considered it a strain on public safety to handle pathogens at a BSL 2 level. To resolve this problem, we maden effort to create a new test organism which fulfills BSL 1 standards, serves as a model for BSL 2 pathogens and carries the necessary targets for our antibiotic. Therefore, we created a safe E.coli-based test system for our antibiotic. Showing both the antimicrobial effect on gram-positive bacteria and the improved parameters of our adapted antibiotic Troiacin. In conclusion, we contributed significant research to a socially relevant field and took care of conducting this research safely and sustainably.
Essential for our project was to integrate the concepts of human practice outside of the lab. To tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance, we pursued the approach of elucidation. Society needs to be provided with information of the right use of antibiotics and needs to grasp that antibiotic resistances are indeed a problem for us, ultimately fighting to reduce the over- and misuse of antibiotics. Fortunately, our project and our team have become quite popular over the last years in our local community which is shown by the fact that an interested student contacted us and hoping to get extensive insights into our work during an internship.
It was a pleasure to offer her a two-week internship in our lab. Since she had never worked in a life science lab before, we showed her the basic workflow in a lab and a variety of molecular methods such as PCR, DNA purification, restriction, ligation, Mini- and Maxiprep and Gibson Assembly. She gave us the rare opportunity to take on a new role as educators and gain experience in mentoring students. We were very excited to work with such a motivated student and very happy to hear that she had a great experience as well. She affirmed that she acquired unique insights into the operations in a laboratory and gained valuable skills about teamwork and some ideas about her future career.
This feedback is also gratifying to us, reassuring us that we can make a positive impact by letting people get an intensive inside view in bioengineering work and motivating us to give more students the chance to do an internship with us.
After this thrilling response, we were encouraged to open our team and labwork for as many people as possible. Around this time we heard “Deutsches Jungforschernetzwerk - juFORUM e.V.” was organizing a statewide meeting of participants of the 2017 “Jugend Forscht” science competition. juFORUM e.V. is a network by and for high school, university and Ph.D. students and other people interested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
So we invited 22 young STEM-interested students from around Baden-Württemberg to the Interfaculty Institute of Biochemistry in Tübingen offering the seminar “Nothing in the pipeline? - The Problem of modern antibiotic research”. The task was to engage in a role-play where participants formed their own opinion in small groups and represented different parties involved in antibiotic research. The following organizations were represented: university research, the pharmaceutical industry, medicine, and health insurance. Additionally, two students guided the discussion and worked out some background information. Every group received material assembled with information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), different scientific papers and newspaper. During the review of the material, many students commented they were surprised by the urgency of this issue. They had never heard of the problem of modern antibiotic research before, which was a bit surprising to us.
The students got the chance to work out a new topic with high-level information in a short amount of time and had enough insight to engross in an intense and heated discussion. They summarized that the problem of antibiotic research is indeed an urgent matter and suggested that all involved parties had to start a better communication, be more open-minded and most important - invest more money to break down unnecessary barriers.
Opening our team for a small group of highly interested people did not only inspire us to continue our engagement in educating people but also showed all participants how easy participation could be. Driven by this enthusiasm, we wanted to go to the next level and reach a broader mass of different people.
Reaching the broad mass
This year the University of Tübingen organized a special event called “Tübinger Fenster für Forschung”, an open international platform where young and experienced researchers can present their work to the public. We took this opportunity to present our team, our project and the iGEM initiative and to come into contact with people who were new to synthetic biology. We had a few fascinating conversations about genetic engineering in the lab and everyday life. Furthermore, people appeared to be very interested in our previous projects and our achievements over the last years. Additionally, Michael Krummhaar presented the topic synthetic biology with his presentation called “Buy a Nokia - get an iPhone” on the science slam embodied in this event. The audience was astonished that genetic engineering is that easy and can be done by young students.
This event showed us that the public doesn’t know much about synthetic biology or genetic engineering and was surprised to hear how much can be done with these methods. Nevertheless, everyone we talked to was very interested and fascinated by our project. There should be more such events to make synthetic biology more popular and open the eyes of people who never deal with science in their daily life.
For this reason, we found ourselves interested in forming a long-term cooperation with “Jugendforschungzentrum Nagold" (JFZ). This is a hub for students in the age from 12 to 19 getting the chance, the facilities and the support to discover and develop their fascination for science and technology. The support provided by the JFZ also includes events and workshops. As we love assembling biobricks we came up with the idea to build a 2.7 m high DNA helix with ZomeTool, a construction set for engineering science and mathematics. Together with the JFZ, we invited students, children, and families to our event to help us. While building the DNA model, we answered questions about biochemistry and synthetic biology in general. Especially parents were stunned about the examples where genetically engineered products already affect their daily life. Children were fascinated by the possibility to see the DNA in general and to learn how nature can be assembled with simple geometric structures. This way we could realize the project and show them how versatile and multidimensional science can be.
As a cooperation is based on mutuality, we also invited a group of interested young students from Nagold to our institute. The JFZ has a special program to train STEM ambassadors. Therefore we showed them around in our institute, in our lab and let them perform some chemical experiments.
While working on our project, we realized that we developed and optimized some chemical and biochemical methods. We wanted to share our acquired knowledge and looked for a platform to share our experience and tips in a much more accessible way than a dull lab protocol. Therefore, we initiated an educational YouTube collaboration. This collaboration consists of 6 teams from 4 different continents. We expanded our initial idea to create an international platform to share lab methods and experiences with the possibility to make videos to promote, explain and educate iGEM in context of synthetic biology linked to the individual projects. Our channel reaches out to students who are not aware of iGEM yet and holds a high potential to inspire and educate future iGEM teams in a multicultural and exhilarant way.
You can find videos about synthetic biology in general, laboratory safety, CRISPR/Cas systems and many tutorials such as our tutorial on how to harvest spores from Streptomyces colonies.
Visit our channel!
Education and sharing experiences are not only crucial for the broad public but also within the iGEM community. Hence, we were happy to join the European iGEM Meetup in Delft. Especially the new team members were delighted about the possibility to meet iGEM teams from all around Europe, to take a trip to a new country and to get in touch with the iGEM atmosphere. This event was a great platform for exchanging collaboration ideas, to see how other teams work and how to communicate ideas in front of other experts.
Furthermore in summer, we invited the new iGEM team Stuttgart to Tübingen. Since this team is participating in the iGEM competition for the first time in 2017, we invited them to share experiences about iGEM in general, team organization, cooperation with the university and lab equipment. Most members of the team Stuttgart have an engineering background while they are less experienced in lab work. Since we have a lot of experience in the wet lab but are not that experienced in biotechnology, a fusion of our teams would be a perfect complementation. We are excited to see what will happen in the future.
© iGEM Team Tuebingen 2017