In the beginning of the year, the student group SynBio Brasil met to brainstorm the year’s iGEM project and recruit people for the team, as we always do. From the first brainstorming on we were thinking about how synthetic biology could contribute for a better world solving local and global problems in a responsible way.
To make sure we are designing it to be safe and work in real life we asked:
Luckily for us, we managed to interview various experts in different fields, experts in transgenic mosquitoes, zika, malaria, dengue and even paratransgenesis. Professor Margareth LC Guimarães, professor Welington L de Araújo, prof. Gerhard Wunderlich and prof. Jayme Souza-Neto. In addition, we also got valuable feedback from other specialists at the four scientific congresses where we presented our project during the year (see below). The main feedbacks that were incorporated in our project design were Guimarães’ concern with the time delay between our detection system and the secretion of the toxin by our trojan bacteria and the critics on our detector design. The first point resulted in our model, which was created to solve this question. The second point made us change the fur regulon we had chosen for the iron detector by the dtxR regulon.
Professor Margareth LC Guimarães and professor Welington L de Araújo are members of the National Biosafety Technical Committee of Brazil, CTNBio.
They talked to us about the existing regulations and the processes that are necessary for liberating GMOs into the environment in our country. According to them, to get permission to use our project in real life, we would have to study the survival capacity of our GMO in different environments and if it would survive we would have to study the interaction with the microbial ecosystems. A well-characterized kill-switch would help on that. With their help we elaborated our biocontainment strategy. They also talked to us about a project that is similar to ours, that is now in a process for permission for doing a field experiment, which gave us some insights about the challenges we could face in the future.
Tatiana Mingote Ferreira de Azara Ph.D, from the Health Surveillance Secretary of the Brazilian Ministry of Health kindly accepted to talk to us and gave us very important insights to the issues that the government faces dealing with infectious diseases.
The first problem is about diagnostics, caused by the similarity of the viruses (dengue, zika and yellow fever), all present in Brazil. And second, the production of diagnostic kits in a very large scale, which nowadays is not possible. Currently, people are diagnosed by the healthcare employees by their symptoms. Another issue is that there is no cure for this diseases and also in Brazil there is no vaccine being used. The government actions can be resumed in:
- Fighting the vector with insecticides and social consciousness campaigns.
- Training healthcare professionals to improve diagnostics and treatment.
- Distributing diagnostic test kits to the healthcare system.
For the ministry of health to use our technique we would have a long way to go with permissions and evaluations that involve the biosecurity agencies CTNBio and ANVISA, field studies, municipality application and the governmental new technology evaluation institution Conitec.
Presentations of our project
Presentations - Brazilian Jamboree
Early in the year, we had the pleasure of organizing and participating in the 2017 Brazilian Jamboree, an amazing event to bring together iGEM teams and synbio enthusiasts from all over Brazil - you can read more about here! And besides the whole component of bringing together all these amazing people, the Brazilian Jamboree was our first opportunity to showcase our project to our target audience: other scientists. We wanted to know what considerations they had, what they thought could be done differently, and what was necessary for them to buy into the idea of integrating synthetic biology and paratransgenesis. They talked, and we listened. Our project design took major changes after that, and started to look more like what we have on our Wiki today.
Presentations - Workshop on Systems and Synthetic Microbiology in Ribeirão Preto
A little while later, we managed to get a presentation slot on the 2nd Workshop on Systems and Synthetic Microbiology at USP Ribeirão Preto, 300 km from the main city of Sao Paulo, where our secondary PIs and some members are located. This event gave us another chance to showcase our project to the scientific community. Again, they talked and we listened, and more improvements went into the project. The main change we made in response to the critics at the event was in the detector module. We were planning to use the Fur regulon to detect iron in the mosquito's gut of the incoming human blood but experts said this iron uptake regulation system was very complex and affected many cellular processes. So we finally chose the dtxr regulon to detect the iron of the blood.
Presentations - Workshop on Molecular Microbiology
We also presented in the Workshop on Molecular Microbiology, organized by the Biomedical Sciences Institute of our university, where some of our experiments were carried out. At this workshop we only had a poster spot, and got no much feedback about our improved project design.
Presentations - Workshop on Synthetic Biology in Piracicaba
The next workshop where we could present our project and get feedback was the first Workshop on Synthetic Biology in Piracicaba, organized by our friends from the iGEM team ESALQ. The main concern brought up during this presentation was the safety and containment of our GMOs, just like the interviewed Professors had already brought up. So we decided to tackle this issue.