Our Vision

Being the first iGEM team from Finland and one of the few groups in Finland actually doing synthetic biology, our goal was to make people aware of the field and its possibilities.

The first part was figuring out how to explain any of it to an audience that isn't that familiar with biology or gene technology. Explaining BioBricks as LEGO bricks and synthetic biology through programming and engineering helped. But our major breakthrough was the invention of Brian in July and the concept of turning bacteria into superheroes. That really resonated with people and it seemed like people started understand what we actually did.

The other part was informing students and researchers in related fields about synthetic biology and iGEM. There's a lot of people with knowledge of gene technology and biotech in Finland, but synthetic biology is hardly mentioned. We aimed to change that, though a major part of that will be recruiting next year's team.

We also took part in the Summer of Startups startup incubator program. It was a great platform for learning to talk about synthetic biology in layman's terms.

We also learned what it means to be a synthetic biology startup and we want spread that information onwards to people who are interested in trying that out.

Our major breakthrough was the concept of turning bacteria into superheroes.

From left to right: Otto, Minttu, Martina, Pietu and Oskari. Photo by Stewart Dowden.


Making Finland Aware of Synthetic Biology

As a part of our aim to make people aware of synthetic biology, we tried to acquire visibility in media; both social and traditional. To be successful in media, we even had one team member allocated mainly to communications. While our main focus was in social media, we also contacted Finnish science magazines and local newspapers. In contacting different media platforms, we were aided by communications manager of Aalto CHEM, Riikka Hopiavaara. We thank her for the input in supporting our project.

Despite our active contacts, we didn’t achieve a massive breakthrough through traditional media. However, we gained a large coverage in Finnish Chemistry magazine, Kemia, which provided us with a three page entry on their paper. The magazine has over 10 000 subscribers. Moreover, in September we were contacted by a local radio station, YLE Radio Suomi. This resulted in a live radio interview about our project.

The articles we collaborated on:

There we are on the pages of Finnish Chemistry magazine!

A Website for the General Public

At the very beginning of the project we wanted to create a website that we could link to our friends, new acquaintances and potential sponsors. It included basic info about us and a general overview of the project. We started developing it rapidly and it actually got into a presentable shape fairly fast. We launched the website on 23rd of May.

We expected to attract sponsors with the page, but the most important function turned about to be for media to use as a basis for a story and for our Facebook fans to get a more in-depth introduction to us. It was also really good practice for making the wiki. Using GitHub together with several people was a new experience and sometimes it was difficult to find out why things weren't working as we thought they should.

This is how the first plan of the "sponsor website" looked like. We developed it further during the project. A replica of the website (click here) should be available also in the future.

Creating the Wiki

Making a good wiki was important to us. It had to be simple and well formatted but also nice to look at and informative. We wanted it to represent our team well, so we took our time with it and developed it with care. We started early and proceeded to create our wiki steadily, step by step. It turned out amazingly well. It's completely responsive so it looks good on any platform: phones, pads, desktops. We also hope that you can effortlessly find everything you'd want to, and that scrolling through the content is a pleasent experience for every visitor.

Figuring out the best way to present ourselves in the wiki was a tough problem to solve. We thought about many options but ended up having a similar clean layout that we had used in the website for the general public. Having a navigation bar on the side seemed like a fun idea at first but we gave it up to keep things aesthetically pleasing and to make it possible to browse the wiki on all platforms. Scrolling through the content felt like a great choice, so instead of countless different subcategories, we only have eight categories and you can just scroll through them. Sorting the categories felt very difficult, too, but in the end it feels like everything found their own place.

The first thing we did for the wiki was an upload tool: iGEM Wiki Quickifier. With it we could upload content to our team wiki without using the cumbersome wiki interface. We could write our pages directly as HTML files and the script would add the needed template tags as it uploaded the pages to the wiki. Uploading content to other wikis than ours is not implemented (yet), but if you know Python, modifying the script should be an easy task.

We used GitHub to keep our texts synchronized, have backups easily available and make editing the same file simultaneusly feasible. Every change was recorded, so you can browse the complete process from our commit history. Here's the GitHub page of our wiki. You can, of course, also browse the code that's here on the final version of the wiki.

We made the wiki from scratch: it doesn't use any templates. We designed and constructed the wiki completely by ourselves. We utilized Bootstrap and JQuery libraries to ease the mission a bit but the layout and the code is all our work.

The punch card for wiki changes. The only bad time for making the wiki is 7 am. The bigger the circle, the more commits (changes) were made on the wiki code at a time.

The timeline of wiki changes. We did start early, but there still might've been a bit work left to do on the final week.

Social Media

Creating a successful outreach without capturing social media is rather difficult these days. This is why we dedicated ourselves to making a rumble in the internet. And we believe we succeeded well. Our team profile has over 300 likes on Facebook, 160 followers on Twitter and our videos on Youtube have been watched altogether almost thousand times by the date of Wiki freeze. All this out of nothing. This proves that people in Finland indeed find synthetic biology as an interesting field of science; although we have a lot of international followers, too. Facebook and Twitter actually acted as excellent platforms to contact other iGEM teams and the headquarters.

On our website we published a blog so that people could see the life in synthetic biology more tangibly. Blog entries included descriptions of our daily routines and special events, and also team member profiles. We published a newsletter for all interested in our project and uploaded photos to Flickr.

All in all, you can find us on following places:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Flickr
  • Events and Meetings

    During the course of this project we have met a lot of important and interesting people. At the start of our project we presented our initial ideas to a panel of experts that consisted mostly of professors and researchers from our universities and VTT. They all seemed very excited for us and gave us some feedback on the ideas and even threw some new ones in the air.

    Throughout the summer, in the Summer of Startups program, we also got to rehearse pitching and presenting our ideas to the general audience. We got coached by some great people, for example Marko Ahtisaari from MIT Media Lab, and they taught us to explain synthetic biology in a more understandable way. It was during one these coaching sessions/meetings that we came up with the idea of turning bacteria into superheroes. It turned out to be an easy way to explain our project to people who don't know that much about genetic engineering, let alone synthetic biology.

    We also had lab tours for people who were interested in the project and wanted to see what we actually do in the lab. As genetically modified organisms and genetic engineering are a bit of a taboo in Finland, we wanted to do our part in convincing people that what we do is not hazardous in any way and allay any suspicions they might have had towards our project and GMO in general.

    Spreading the word about synthetic biology, especially among our peers, was one of our main goals. So we went and talked about our project to a lot of people on all sorts of occasions. We held a small presentation of the project and iGEM in general for the Molecular Biosciences students of the University of Helsinki. We had only planned to talk for a few minutes but the audience was so interested in everything that we ended up talking for almost an hour! We also represented our team in Aalto Party, the kick off event of the academic year at Aalto University, where we had our own pop-up booth.

    We had the opportunity to pitch at Pitch Night, which was an event aimed for scientific projects and was part of Thinkfest, an festival of thinking and science held by the University of Helsinki in honour of their 375th anniversary. At Pitch Night we had a bit more mature audience and it was great to see how they reacted to our idea. Most of them seemed very interested. A major achievement was also securing an exhibition/event of our own at the Heureka Science Center for a full weekend. We will be displaying our work and telling people about synthetic biology in a down to earth manner. The event will be held in spring 2015 and it will be targeted mainly for children.

    In the beginning of September we had a chance to rehearse our presenting in front of the researchers of VTT. We got really good and constructive feedback. Important points we needed to consider were also brought up. Right before we leave for Boston we will also be giving our Jamboree presentation at a HYBER workshop, which will be a good rehearsing opportunity for us, as well as an opportunity to introduce ourselves to a lot of important people in the industry.

    Meeting at Heureka.

    Otto, Minttu and Oskari having fun at Heureka.

    Aalto-Helsinki in the Summer of Startups Kickoff event. This time we were listening and learning, the next time we'd be on stage!

    Finding Partners

    There's no way we could have have done this alone. Finding the right people and support was crucial in building the story behind Aalto-Helsinki. As we are the first iGEM team from Finland, we did not have any existing support in the beginning. The very first thing, before even building the team, was to get the support of University of Helsinki and Aalto Unviersity. This includes lab spaces, mentors, advisors and financial support. The team leader contacted Pekka Heino and Ragna Rönnholm from University of Helsinki as well as Alexander Frey and Markus Linder from Aalto University. They were convinced about the project and provided us the necessary support to get started. Special thanks to our mentor, Markus Linder, who believed in us in the first place and covered our registration fee.

    The second step was finding more financial support for the team. During the spring we had brainstorming sessions about fundraising and we spent long nights filling out applications to different Finnish foundations, organizations and ERASynBio. We also applied to AaltoES Summer of Startups, since we knew it would bring a great support on the Entrepreneurship track. During the spring we also connected with the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT. They promised to invest their expertise and special equipment when needed.

    The third step was to find company partnerships. We made a list of Finnish companies related to our field and contacted them by first sending and email and then calling them the next day. Regardless of the great effort we put into contacting the companies, only those we knew personally supported us financially. Summer of Startups was very useful in terms of networking as well. One of the coaches at Summer of Startups helped us to connect with Biotech Start-Up Management, which became one of our partners offering business expertise for our team.

    The last phase happened on its own weight. As a result of actively building a positive image on media and being active in social media, different parties in the field heard about us. We have received invitations to seminars and projects to present iGEM, our team and research. We were invited to Biocentrum Helsinki board meeting, Academy of Finland's Centre of Excellence 2014-2019 HYBER workshop, Living Factories project's board meeting and ChemBio Finland conference. And of course we are going to give presentations to students and faculty members at Aalto University and University of Helsinki.

    The Extras

    Flappy Coli

    We also made a silly game (an iGEMified version of Flappy Bird) called Flappy Coli. In the game you are guiding a genetically modified bacterium through an iGEM maze. The flagellum of the bacterium will grow as you get further in the game, and if you get far enough, it might even grow more flagella!

    The game was created with the help of a guide by ("How to make a Flappy Bird in HTML5").

    All of the code is available on the GitHub page of Flappy Coli.

    Here's the bacterium navigating through the iGEM maze.

    Cellf Improvement

    We got so inspired by the iGEM summer project that the bacterial thoughts created another game idea in our heads. Lassi, Laura and Jimi Welling started building a game about being a bacterium in a vast petri dish, exploring a weird world and gaining plasmids to become the biggest, baddest... thing in the gene pool.

    In the game, the player controls a "bacterium" that is composed of a bunch of cells. The goal of the bacterium is to wander around a vast biological world, collect plasmids, meet different creatures and evolve. The bacterium gains features as it consumes plasmids and loses them when it throws plasmids away. The bacteria might even launch their worst plasmids at each other!

    Although the game is inspired by the mechanisms of real bacteria, we took some artistic liberties in applying them.

    Concept art of (working title) Cellf Improvement by Laura.


    In mythology, a chimera is a monstrous creature with parts from multiple animals. In science, the word chimera is used to refer to an organism or a virus which has genetically distinct cells from two (or more) different zygotes or genetic material from other organisms. Also fusion proteins can be called chimeras.

    Studying the connection between the different definitions for the word "chimera", we came up with the idea to draw a chimera for every team member. To make things interesting, everyone got to decide three different animals. Laura drew each of them during the summer. Here they are all assembled.

    The caption under the image tells which chimera belongs to which team member (and which animals each chimera contains).

    Every team member got to pick three animals. The combinations were then turned into illustrations of nine different chimeras.
    • Lassi: aye-aye, hedgehog, squirrel
    • Laura: snow leopard, dragonfly, least weasel
    • Martina: tortoise, koala, moose
    • Mikko: hammerhead shark, anaconda, tarantula
    • Minttu: unicorn, raccoon, leopard
    • Niklas: lion, fox, crow
    • Oskari: hummingbird, giraffe, peacock
    • Otto: salmon, snake, eagle
    • Pietu: polar bear, kangaroo, hedgehog