This year, our Policy & Practice team has been involved in 3 different initiatives: Science Rendezvous Kingston, filming a new interview series on bioremediation and oil spills, and developing a new synthetic biology course.
Promoting Synthetic Biology to the Kingston Community
QGEM strives to make an impact educating the local Kingston community about synthetic biology and the importance of scientific research. This year, QGEM participated in Science Rendezvous Kingston, where we hosted our own booth and organized activities for local families and children to engage in.
One of the activities we hosted at our booth allowed children to carry out their own test tube experiment growing yeast. We set up flasks containing either water or sugar water, then introduced dry active yeast into either medium and sealed a balloon overtop each flask. We had children predict which flask they believed would produce the larger balloon, and allowed them to observe as the process of cellular respiration took place, causing the balloons to expand as the yeast produced carbon dioxide in the flasks. This was a great opportunity for children and their families to learn about a simple science experiment that can be done at home to learn about the wonders of cellular biology!
Another activity that we hosted at our booth allowed children to explore the inside of a human cell at a molecular level using virtual reality (VR) technology. Using a VR headset and the app InCell VR, participants had the opportunity to learn about cell components such as the nucleus, the mitochondria, DNA, and ribosomes all through an interactive game experience. Our VR station was a huge success, especially with the younger audiences!
Finally, we provided the kids with a take-home activity that they could perform as a science experiment on their own with adult supervision. Our take-home activity involved an alternative spin to Gregor Mendel's peas, where we gave kids the opportunity to grow and cross cherry tomatoes. Each family was given a packet of cherry tomato seeds with seeds for red, gold, and black cherry tomatoes as well as an instructions manual for crossing tomato plants. Our activity, named "Mendel's Tomatoes", will be a great hands-on supplement for children aspiring to be young scientists to learn about topics such as genetics and inheritance.
Overall, QGEM's first year being involved with the Kingston Science Rendezvous was a huge success, and we hope to continue being involved in the future to help inspire young students to pursue STEM-related careers. We had an amazing time introducing members of the Kingston community to the wonderful world that is synthetic biology, as well as discussing with them details about our 2017 project and how we will be using synthetic biology as a tool for cleaning up the environment. We would like to thank the Science Rendezvous Coordinators from the Queen's Faculty of Education, Kim Garrett and Lynda Colgan, for providing us with this opportunity!
Below are some of the resources we used for our activities:
About the Interview Series
This year, the QGEM team has once again partnered up with various professors at Queen's University to offer a new educational interview series on this year's project. This interview series focused on topics regarding bioremediation, oil spill toxicity on marine environments, and biofilm production to supplement the design of the 2017 QGEM project as well as offer a range of perspectives on the applicability of the project. This year's interview series features three Queen's faculty members: Dr. Juliana Ramsay from the Department of Chemical Engineering, Dr. Peter Hodson from the School of Environmental Studies, and Dr. Virginia Walker from the Department of Biology. Through each of these interviews, we were able to gain insight into factors such as environmental safety, scalability, and adaptability of our project, and integrated the advice we received from these interviews into the design of our project for real-world application. You can watch the videos from the interview series on our Integrated Human Practices page.
About the SynBio Course
One of our goals this year targeted towards future Human Practice initiatives is the development of a new undergraduate online course devoted specifically for synthetic biology. This will be the first course of its kind offered at Queen's University, and we hope to have it available as a third year course for students in biology, biochemistry, life sciences, computer sciences, and engineering. Throughout the summer, we have been in contact with the Queen's Faculty of Arts and Science and Faculty of Health Sciences administrators for guidance and advice on developing our new course, as well as establishing the design and purpose of the course. QGEM members have been hard at work brainstorming ideas for the course syllabus throughout the summer, and we also received generous guidance from Dr. Trevor Charles from the University of Waterloo's Department of Biology. Dr. Charles was able to share with us his experience in teaching a third year synthetic biology course, BIOL 349, being offered at Waterloo.
Our synthetic biology course will be offered through online lectures, and feature a group project design assignment that students will work towards throughout the entire semester. The lecture material will focus on the fundamentals of molecular biology and synthetic biological circuits, covering topics ranging from the central dogma of molecular biology to cloning techniques and plasmid design. Throughout the course, students will work in groups of 3 to design a novel synthetic biology project. This will include writing and submitting a project proposal, submitting an electronic project poster detailing project design and methods, and submitting a final project report that takes into account potential obstacles and a detailed methodology. Throughout the course, students will also be involved in weekly discussion forums focused on recent synbio publications, government policy impacting synbio advancement, or the importance of ethics in synbio research for society. By the end of the course, students will be capable of advanced problem-solving and critical thinking as well as collaborating through a teamwork environment.
The details of our course outline can be found here. We aim to have the course running and available to students by the beginning of the 2018-2019 academic year.