As part of the project we looked to spread synthetic biology throughout the community. We approached this feat through several different avenues.

Engaging with A-Level Students

One such way was our invitation to invite an A-Level student, Lucie, to explore the world of synthetic biology by granting her an in depth view of our project. Lucie spent two weeks with us over the summer exploring several advanced techniques within the field. She gained experience in DNA coding through use of several programmes (including Geneious and ApE) and spent time working with the team to remove a restriction site from a coding region from one of our gene blocks.

In addition, she gained insight into how A-Level mathematics can be used to help set up equations that can govern the use of a biological system. She worked alongside the modellers of the team in order to see how they came up with the equation, and they also introduced her to the software that they were using to analyse the equations.

Lucie also spent some time in the lab, observing what lab work at undergraduate level looks like and the differences it bears to school. We taught her several skills, including: miniprepping, pipetting and making gels. She also enjoyed observing the other tasks that she could not take part in; in particular the handling of human cells.

We felt that this was a very beneficial way of approaching the issue of synthetic biology as there is currently talk about introducing topics within the GCSE and A-Level syllabi. We felt that by providing hands on experience we have given Lucie a “boost” in this respect, but also allowed her to open her options to perhaps continuing study within the field at university. By providing pathways such as this, it also allows the student to gain valuable experience to help with university applications within scientific fields and it was regretful that we could not have offered this opportunity to more students. At the end of her time she said:"It gave me a new appreciation for all areas of the research and the intricacies of carrying it out. I enjoyed being with a team of undergrads and would definitely encourage other people to take on similar opportunities."

Raising awareness amongst students
We also looked to create awareness amongst our peers. Although university students, we felt that most were not in fact alert to this new and emerging field of synthetic biology, and upon speaking with students through lecture shout-outs and social media. We discovered this was indeed true. As a result, we will be establishing a brand new society at the university, SynBioWarwick.

The aim of our society would be to promote synthetic biology amongst students but also across the local community by holding several types of events. These would range from obtaining guest speakers to speak on the subject to current PhD students giving talks on the subject of their dissertations. We would also look to increase knowledge about iGEM. We would very much like to share the experience with others, and as we were the first Warwick team, we would like to provide advice to the subsequent teams who will follow. To this end, we aim to hold talks about our project, to gauge interest, but also hold seminars and workshop classes to teach students the relevant skills prior to actually beginning their project in the summer. These would include classes on: practical lab work skills (such as: mini-prepping, loading gel, etc.) to modelling (such as: constructing systems of equations, looking through literature to find suitable parameters, etc.).

We felt that by taking a two-pronged approach to this by first doing our “market research”, and then deciding to set up a society was a much better line to take. It allowed us to make an informed decision about whether it would be worth setting up a society, and also if we decided we would (as we did) it gives us support in our application by seeing so many people interested within the field. This also will line us up to help the wider local community because it is common for guest speaker talks to be aimed at the general public as well as at students. By doing this and establishing links, we will be able to hold said events with regularity, and thereby be able to increase public knowledge within a field little is currently known about.

Our survey allowed us to explore questions pertaining to our project as well as to synthetic biology as a whole. Due to use of an online third party survey constructor, we were able to send the survey far and wide. We spread the survey through social media, through email amongst the university, to other iGEM teams and also across the world through strategically placed contacts the team had.

We will not talk much about the survey here as there is a whole section dedicated to the results obtained from it, however it was a very worthwhile exercise and I would encourage all iGEM teams to undertake a survey as part of their Policy & Practices, as it allows for the understanding and observation of responses from a wide collective. Moreover, with strategic questioning, there is a lot to gain and perhaps from an iGEM perspective even collaboration because we began talks with M.I.T. regarding delivery mechanisms for their project as a result of our survey.

For a full look at the responses we received, please see here.

We asked the IGEM subreddit "How comfortable would you be with modified bacteria or viruses being injected into you?" We had several interesting responses from members of other IGEM teams, which you can read here. Reddit user 204027288 made a good point that made our team think about how mutations could be dangerous in our system, a problem that we hadn't thought about before.

Despite the detailed responses, the lack of responses was indicative of how the IGEM community on Reddit is still relatively new and developing. We hope that the subreddit can become more popular in the future, and act as a good space for the IGEM community to spread to.