Education had a pivotal place in science: a scientist is insatiably eager to learn and teach. At the very beginning of the development of our project, we unanimously decided to build an important educational program for our iGEM participation.
As our project was progressing, three main domains emerged as crucial for iGEM competition, society and to the BioMaker Factory: Synthetic Biology, Public Health and Microbiology. These are the three topics we have chosen to teach during this year.
Through practical courses with high school students, meetings surrounded by crêpes with kids, our formal presentation to adults, our teaching has taken many forms to reach a large range of audience; to us it really felt like a strong public engagement.
OVERVIEW OF OUR WORK ON EDUCATION
Non-scientific adult public
When looking for funds, it was very important to us to give our audience a actual comprehension of the science that is behind the project. We did our best to simplify our speeches for greater clarity. Since DNA, genetic information and even the notion of cells are pretty hazy for most people outside of the world of biology, it was hard for us to give a proper explanation of what is synthetic biology and why we use bacteria, why it is not harmful… But thanks to a lot of practice and advices from our professors, we learnt how to give accurate yet straightforward explanations of these complex concepts. Actually, we managed to arouse curiosity and make people ask for further information about non-pathogenic bacteria, antibodies or even gene editing!
We met a lot of kids during the different events we attended or organized such as pancake sales in parks. Against all odds, meeting kids that have no concrete idea of what are genetics, molecular biology and that don’t understand the matter and challenges of public health (at least that is what we thought) was very instructive and rewarding! Youngsters are so creative and full of unexpected toughts. They gave us very quirky ideas for the use of our Factory and we will definitely keep them in mind for the after-iGEM.
Thank you kids for the open-mindness talks and for your drawings!
High School student
French teenagers know a terrible crisis at the end of high school because many of them they have no clue of what they want to do after: go to university? Or in a higher education school? To study what? Studying science – especially biology – at university is not the sexiest pathway for a 17 year-old student-to-be. It was thus very important for us explain them how research in biology can be exciting. If you want to know more about the lab work we carried with a Parisian high school class.
PRACTICAL CLASS IN “MAURICE GENEVOIX” HIGH SCHOOL
During summer, we contacted Miss Yasmine Bellagha, a biology teacher in Maurice Genevoix High School in the city of Montrouge, close to Paris. We wanted to organize a practical course with one of her classes. She was very happy to hear about iGEM competition and about our proposition!
The practical work will take place in them sessions:
First sesstion: (3 hours – 13/10/2017)
1. Presentation of the 2-session class
2. Presentation of ourselves
3. Reminders: genotype and phenotype
4. Practical work
Second session: (2 hours – 17/10/2017 - 4 days later):
5. Interpretation of results (Lab reports)
6. What is synthetic biology?
7. Presentation of iGEM competition and our projects
8. What can you do with a university degree in Biology?
Notions we wanted to transmit
- - Yeasts: Yeasts reproduce by budding or more rarely by scissiparity. Yeasts form conical colonies on a petri dish, unlike bacteria that tend to form colonies and fungi. Their size (5 to 15 μm) is greater than that of bacteria (1 to 3 μm), which makes them easy to observe at 400 magnification.
- Saccharomyces cerevisae Ade2-: Saccharomyces cerevisae Ade2-: It is a haploid unicellular eukaryote. It is the smallest known eukaryotic genome: 14,000 kb and 6200 genes. The strain used carries a mutation that affects the ade2 gene involved in the adenine biosynthetic chain. The function of the ade2 gene is to transform an intermediate of this chain: Amino Imidazole Ribotide (AIR), which is oxidized to a red pigment in aerobic state. The Ade2- mutation has two effects:
- o As the strain is unable to synthesize adenine, it will not grow on minimal medium without adenine
- o If you add adenine by supplementing the culture medium (or growing on rich medium), the mutated strain will use it to grow. Since the amount of adenine supplied to the strain is not very important, the strain does not have enough adenine to grow to the best of its ability. The strain will therefore operate the adenine biosynthetic chain. It will present a red phenotype because of the accumulation of the AIR and its oxidation.
- Biosynthesis chain of adenine : The red phenotype and the inability to grow on a poor environment allow us to have a "positive selection" visible to the naked eye and a selection system without the use of antibiotics. Strains which carry the Ade2- mutation after growth on a petri dish are thus easily differentiated. In fact, on a rich or adenine-enriched box, the yeasts without mutation will grow and have a white phenotype, whereas the Ade2- yeasts will grow but will have a red phenotype. On a low medium box without adenine, the unmutated yeasts grow and are white while the yeasts Ade2- do not grow.
- o Note: Mutations are common in yeast Ade2- because the accumulating AIR pigment is toxic and increases the selection pressure. It is common for yeast to spontaneously mutate at the level of the respiratory chain so as to avoid oxidizing the adenine biosynthesis intermediate (AIR) to a toxic compound. These mutated colonies are white and larger than the red ones because they grow more easily (unhindered by the toxic pigment): it does not mean that they have recovered the ability to synthesize their own adenine.
- - About mutagenic agents - UV concepts: The UVs used are type C and wavelength 254 nm. The DNA molecule can absorb UV light at 254 nm; UV causes mutations: uptake of UV energy by DNA results in the formation of adjacent thymine dimers, which causes breaks within the molecule due to distortions of the double helix. In the majority of cases, these breaks will be repaired by the enzymes involved in DNA replication (nucleases, polymerases, etc.). Only these enzymes can make mistakes and mutations can appear. The more one solicits these enzymes, the more the risk of appearance of mutation is important. These mutations can be lethal (if they affect a gene responsible for the synthesis of a vital protein) or not and, in this case, we have the appearance of a "mutant". The manipulation involves exposing our mutated strain to UV and observing the appearance of white colonies on medium supplemented with adenine.
Collaboration with Evry-Paris Saclay Team
We invited Evry-Paris Saclay iGEM team to join us to share with the pupils their knowledge, their lab skills and their vision of iGEM experience. Thus, we collaborated with two members of their team. Rose attended the practical class with us (1st session). She was very patient with the pupils and helped us in the long process preparation of the material and solutions on the day of the class. Yanis was here for the 2nd session (Interpretation of results, introduction to synthetic biology, Presentation of iGEM competition and our projects, overview of biology at university). He has an actual pedagogical talent and the pupils immediately appreciated him. This was a great illustration for the kids that scientific research is based on collaboration and team work. Thank you very much Evry-Paris Saclay, we really had a smashing time working with you.
During these 2 sessions, three main educational interests were brought to the fore:
- - Initiation to microbiology: use of the microscope, discovery of culture media, dilution and spreading techniques. Learn to work under sterile conditions.
- - Approach to the Genotype-Phenotype relationship: show that the phenotype is directly linked to the genotype, that traits are transmitted from generation to generation.
- - Study the mutagenic effect of UV on yeasts; deduce that they act directly on DNA by introducing mutations: appearance of mutants, decrease in the number of clones, lethal effect.
This experience was very rewarding to us. The pupils really enjoyed the practical course and were very thankful. Many of them were so interested that we kept in touch via mail so that they can ask us question about biology and studying biology at university. It has also erected the urge for some of us to orient their careers towards teaching. We are very grateful to Mrs Bellagha, the teacher, who did her best to provide anything we asked for to organize the practical. She had total trust in our work and she made us feel at home in this high school.
(The protocol we gave to the pupils is given next page)