The team was interested in showing our project to other iGEM teams, in order to know if the project is really useful, and to discuss the pros and cons of this. For this, we decided to contact teams whose projects were similar to ours. That is, teams that are developing new methods to detect molecules in water samples. The collaboration proposal with which we approached the teams was:
"Hold online meetings with the objective of knowing the projects of both groups and discuss the pros and cons of both projects. In this way, we can propose solutions to the problems of the other team, thus providing a new point of view to the problems and possible solutions. As a final goal, the possibility of combining both projects to reduce the cons and increase the pros could be discussed".
At the end of September, all the teams had already uploaded their abstract, so we dedicated ourselves to read the abstract of all the teams participating in the "environment" track. This is how we found 9 teams with whom we were interested in collaborating due to the similarity of our projects. We contacted everyone with our collaboration proposal, from which we obtained some answers. However, the team that was most enthusiastic about our proposal was the Peshawar team from Pakistan (their wiki!)(Page of collaboration of the team).
Our first contact was with Shaheer, who was very willing to hold a meeting by videoconference. Despite the difficulties we had to meet, due to the different time zones (Chile and Pakistan are 8 hours apart) we managed to arrange our first meeting, in which Shaheer Sabz Ali and Muhammad Dawood participated. In this first meeting we got to know each other, talk about our respective human practices and about our respective iGEM experiences. We also discussed our project, we showed our iGEM presentation prototype so they could give us feedback, and they did the same with their project. Both teams were interested in each other's project, so we agreed to hold future meetings, this time with the objective of specifically discussing how to help improve the other's project. For this, we made a document describing the pros and cons of our project.
At the next meeting, the Peshawar team gave us a document describing solutions to the problems our project has, as well as others that our team had overlooked. The document sent by Peshawar is attached below:
Our team was very happy with the content of the document. Mainly because it helped us to find ideas for our main problem. How to avoid the disintegration of our aptazymes by DNAases, when measuring the concentration of STX in real samples (and not pure samples of STX as we have worked in our proof of concept). The Peshawar team proposed us to use molecules that block DNase activity, and sent us a complete list of molecules that fulfil this function, in order to select the one that best fits our system (that is, the one that will least affect the activity of the aptazyma). They also proposed to work our system at low temperatures, since they inhibit the activity of DNAases.
After discussing the different points of the document mentioned above, we began to discuss the most important problems of the Peshawar team project. That's how we found out that their biggest problem is how to reliably detect ion concentrations that are insoluble in aquatic samples. We also discussed the possibility of investigating if they could fulfill the objective of their project (sensing metal ions in water samples) using a system like the one we propose. That is how our team generated the following document:
In this paper, we describe how metal ions of interest to the Peshawar team (Hg, Zn, As and Cd) could be measured using functional DNA and a cell-free system, such as ours. For this we rely on a bibliographical analysis. In this analysis, we also find that these systems that use functional DNA are capable of efficiently measuring insoluble metal ions, so we managed to propose a solution to the great problem Team Peshawar, just as they did with us.
In conclusion, this was a very valuable collaboration for our team for several reasons. First, we could interact with an iGEM team from a country very distant from ours. This made us realize that despite the distance and that both teams are from different cultures, science is able to unite us deeply. As a team, we are very grateful that iGEM allows us to have these opportunities. Another reason is that we managed to discuss our projects in depth, and we received a very valuable feedback, which helped us to see our project from another point of view, which will allow us to continue improving it. Finally, we would like to thank the Peshawar team for the time and energy that I dedicate to this collaboration. We hope to continue consolidating relationships like this.