Week 1: 11 April - 17 AprilWeek 2: 18 April - 24 AprilWeek 3: 25 April - 1 MayWeek 4: 2 May - 8 MayWeek 5: 9 May - 15 MayWeek 6: 16 May - 22 MayWeek 7: 23 May - 29 MayWeek 8: 30 May - 5 JuneWeek 9: 6 June - 12 JuneWeek 10: 13 June - 19 JuneWeek 11: 20 June - 26 JuneWeek 12: 27 June - 3 JulyWeek 13: 4 July - 10 JulyWeek 14: 11 July - 17 JulyWeek 15: 18 July - 24 JulyWeek 16: 25 July - 31 JulyWeek 17: 1 August - 7 AugustWeek 18: 8 August - 14 AugustWeek 19: 15 August - 21 AugustWeek 20: 22 August - 28 AugustWeek 21: 21 August - 4 SeptemberWeek 22: 5 September - 25 SeptemberWeek 24: 26 September - 3 OctoberWeek 25: 3 October - 1 November
- Met up for the first time and were introduced to the IGEM and what it was all about. Started to do some research about what we can do as our project.
- The Ashesi iGEM started work about two weeks after their end of semester exams on the 22nd of May 2017. The first session was on bio-safety and general lab precautions. This lasted for about an hour and half. There was a mixture of anxiety and readiness amongst the team members to start engineering bacteria and change Africa!
- Based on the series of meetings which took place last semester to research on problems identifiable in the environment, the team finally settled on a problem of regarding galamsey -illegal mining in Ghana. The process of illegal mining utilized mercury to coagulate gold elements from the gold ore. However these mercury elements are released as waste into water bodies after the gold element is separated from mercury upon heating. Mercury, a naturally toxic element enters aquatic organisms in the food chain and accumulates into more toxic forms which in turn poisons humans as well as other organisms in the ecosystem. The solution to this problem was to engineer a plasmid that senses mercury, binds to it and converts it into a less toxic form. This solution of sensing and detoxifying mercury seemed novel and a hopeful answer to Ghana's plea to save our water bodies from mercury contamination.
The Journey Begins
- After two weeks of research and discussions, almost close to the peak of the design for our 'novel' idea, Nana Oye, a member of the team, discovered that our exact idea and design had already been worked on by an iGEM team in Brazil in 2015. This was a major blow to the team: enough to suck up all the adrenaline that existed in the beginning. It was surprising how we had not come across a mercury sensing and purification part in the iGEM parts throughout our research.
The Struggles and Dissapointments
- So we had to go home and start from scratch….thinking and dreaming new ideas to problems we could identify around us. Nonetheless, the clock was still ticking.
The restless anticipation and crippling fear
After days of nerve-recking anticipation and thinking in the Second Cup coffee shop in the Accra mall, we finally decided that the problem of illegal mining was too important to leave unsolved. As a result, we decided to push our limits to try and design a more complex solution to solve to completely solve the problem by introducing a completely new way in which mining can to be done. We designed a new bacteria which would not only help detect and quantify the presednce of gold in ore but will also extract the detected gold from the ore.
We were very excited by our new idea. But the main question that remained was whether we could get it done in the little time that we had left.
The sudden realization in a coffee shop.
After we had come up with the new idea, we now had to start the design of the bacteria and find out whether we had all the components that we needed to construct the bacteria. We spent numerous hours perfecting the design of the bacteria to ensure that it would do what it is supposed to do once it is constructed.
To ensure that the design that we came up with was perfect, our supervisor advised that we should divide each part among ourselves and take a week off to work on the design of the parts individually.
The first step
We were working on the designs for the parts individually.
In the process of finding out if we had the parts that we would need to implement our idea, we realized that we did not have some of the key components needed. Initially, this was a very big blow because we did not have neither the monetary resources nor the time to obtain the parts that we needed.
So we spent the rest of the week trying to figure out the various ways in which we could raise the money that we needed to obtain the parts that we needed.
The newly formed obstacles
- This was a very blissful week because all of our monetary problems were being sorted by grants that we received from numerous organisations who were interested in the project that we were doing. The grants that we received helped us to order for the parts and other equipments that we needed to continue our project.
Help starts pouring in from nowhere!
- This week symbolized one of the lowest points of our journey to the Jamboree in Boston. This is because in this week, nothing was going right. We would spend hours doing transformations for the bacteria and none of the bacteria would grow.
The endless transformations and dead bacteria
Initially, we were at our wits end because we did not know why the bacteria kept dying. We came up with numerous hypothesis to try and explain the occurence. We hypothesized that perhaps our technique was bad or the level of anti-biotic we were using was too high or the bacteria itself was at fault.
After days of troubleshooting, we discovered that the fault lay in the high level of anti-biotic that we were groing the bacteria in. Eventhough we were relieved when we found the root of the problem, we could not rest because we were way behind our schedule.
Uncovering our enemy.
We were so focused on finding out why our bacteria was not growing that we forgot about to sign up to participate in the interlab study. When we realized that our failure to sign up for the interlab study meant that we could not win the bronze medal or any medal for the matter at the Jamboree, our hearts sunk. This is because our ultimate goal was to win a medal and make our country proud.
However by some miracle, IGEM extended the deadline for teams who wanted to sign up for the interlab study and we just could not believe it. It was as if some invisible hand was operating for our benefit. We had began that week with weak hearts but we emerged from it with an unshakable confidence.
Dead dreams and resurrected hopes.
- After we signed up for the interlab study, we printed out the protocols that we needed to follow and we read through to familiarize ourseleves with the steps that we needed to take. Initially, we faced alot of challenges because the instructions in the protocol were very hard to understand and conceptualize. However, with the help of our advisor, we were able to slowly uncover the meaning for each of the instructions presented in the protocol. Once we fully understood the instructions in the interlab protocol, we were ready to begin the interlab experiments.
Starting the interlab
- In this week we began the first series of labs that we had to perform for the interlab study and we could not contain our excitement. The interlab process promised to be exciting and we could not see any future scenario in which anything could go wrong. We presumed, quite erroneously in this week of bliss, that the remainder of our journey to the Giant Jamboree in Boston was going to be very smooth one without challenges. "After all, we are just following protocol" we thought.
During the interlab process
This was one of the most disheartening weeks that the team ever encountered since we began our journey. If the outcome of the events that happened in this week turned out any differently, we would have dropped out of the competition. In this week, the team captain through no fault of his accidentaly broke the only p10 pipette that the team had. This presented a very big obstacle because we needed the p10 pipette to continue not only our interlab study but also other labs in our own project. We did not have neither the money to buy another pipette nor the time to go around looking for one that we could borrow. Time was running out and seemed as if everything was over.
Just when we were about to throw in the towel and return to our individual lives in despair, our advisor performed a laudible piece of engineering magic and fixed the broken pipette. How she did it, we may never know but in that particular moment our intense joy superceeded our curiosity.
The Pipette Problem and the engineer who solved it
- After all of our struggles and fears, we managed to finish the interlab study this week. As the plate reader was recording the final values of the interlab study, we looked at each others faces and we could all feel the untold joy that we were each radiating.
The joy of completing the interlab
- In this week, we took a break so that we could prepare for the upcoming semester.
HEADING BACK TO SCHOOL
- School re-opened this week and our classes began. As a result of this, we could not neither meet to continue our project nor discuss our future plans.
- During this week, we had a meeting in which we laid out all of the plans which would be helping us to balance our school work with the lab work that we had to do.
- In this week, we did all of our remaining transformations and organized all of the protocols that we may need.
THE TRANSFORMATIONS IN SCHOOL
- In this time period, we performed all of our remaining experiments and got the growing parts ready for characterization
NEVER ENDING LOOP OF TRANSFORMATIONS AND EXPERIMENTS
- After spending all of that time in the lab, we conducted some interviews with some industry experts to find out about their take on our project and on Synthetic Biology. We also hosted an session in which we educated a group of school girls from the Berekuso township on what Synthetic Biology was and the prospects of Synthetic Biology.
- We finally presented infront of the whole school on our project and it was great!!....however, the shipping company which submitted our parts did not indicate on the package in which the parts were in that they were DNA. As a result, our parts were submitted but not accepted and we head to Boston with the hope that we can still get a medal Its been fun telling you everything that happened to us. Till we meet in Boston. Ciao ;)
THE LITTLE BIG FINISH....and the screw-up