Team:FDR-HB Peru/Human Practices

FDR HB - Human Practices

Human Practices


Out of the 800 million people, 31 represent the only iGEM high school team in the Southern Hemisphere. We are one out of the twelve iGEM teams in Latin America, the only high school team from this region and the only team in Peru. Therefore, we have a great responsibility to spread the knowledge of synthetic biology. Thus human practices is a crucial part of our project. Synthetic biology is involved in so many aspects of our lives and we want other people to be aware of that. The outreach projects we have created are mostly focused on educating others, however, we have also been able to talk to experts and have formed a solid collaboration with a fish company called TASA. Our team highly values human practices because we recognize that we are lucky to have the privilege to be part of the synthetic biology revolution and we want others to have that opportunity as well.

Our story begins with a simple, but powerful presentation that resulted in seven members from a local high school joining our team and thus begins our journey to bringing synthetic biology to Peru…

In 2018, Dr. Daniel Guerra helped Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) reach out to local schools, in order to establish a collaboration. Late November of 2018, after the 2018 iGEM season, we had a meeting with seven other Peruvian schools and gave two presentations, one explaining synthetic biology and the other was a more basic version of our presentation from the 2018 Giant Jamboree. We were lucky that one of those schools, the Colegio Hiram Bingham (HB), was interested enough to join our team. During our summer vacation (February) we started to meet every week with the HB members in order to teach them the basic lab techniques used in synthetic biology. When school started we decided that we would meet twice a week, Thursdays and Fridays, to work together at the FDR lab.

Presentation November 2018

Presentation November 2018

Presentation November 2018

Presentation November 2018

This collaboration is of high value for both teams because FDR provides a lab space, supplies for the experiment, their previous knowledge on synthetic biology, and being a former iGEM team. On the other hand, HB provides brain and man power, along with an entire new branch of the Human Practices program. By incorporating local students into an iGEM team we are exposing more people to synthetic biology in Peru.

FDR HB Human Practices

Synbio Summer Camp with Hiram Bingham

FDR HB Leadership Picture

The Human Practices Leadership Team

Integrated Human Practices


As a team we believe that being able to make a lasting impact on others in a positive way is crucial, which is why our members have worked diligently when it comes to interacting with our community. We have tried our best to understand our stakeholder’s needs and after various meetings with them, the problems that they need a solution for have become our team’s main focus.

FDR-HB Peru and TASA: Background

Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Colegio Hiram Bingham, whose students form a part of our team, are located in the coastal city of Peru called Lima. This means many of our members have grown up near the ocean and so has our community. Living near the ocean and consuming a lot of seafood means that we have constantly heard about the heavy metal problem in one of our main sources of food: fish. So last year our project focused on alleviating heavy metal contamination in the fishing industry. This is where TASA, our current sponsor, comes in. TASA is the biggest fishing company in all of South America and they export their products, including fishmeal, to various countries all around the globe. They test for over 20 pollutants, which include testing for several heavy metals in their products and their current practice is to dilute the pollutants to meet international standards around the globe. This means that it’s not only Peru that is being affected by the contamination, the rest of the world is affected as well, because the pollutants are still getting shipped out with the fishmeal. We decided to establish a solid collaboration with TASA, to figure out how exactly our team could help.

FDR-HB Peru and TASA: First Meeting

Last year we visited TASA’s factory and learned about the pollutants they test for. At that point we decided to focus on detecting and extracting mercury from the fishmeal, thus, our 2018 iGEM project was focused around mercury.

FDR-HB Peru and TASA: Second Meeting - TASA Headquarters

Our first meeting with TASA during this season was on May 24, 2019. We presented the work we had done on mercury and introduced the company to using synthetic biology to solve their pollution problems. They were so excited about our project but asked, "Can you do this with cadmium?" The scientists at TASA explained that cadmium contamination is actually their biggest concern because of the tight international regulations that limit the amount of cadmium allowed in their fish products. Their biggest problem is that they have no way of determining the amount of cadmium in their fish meal until after they have bagged all of their products and sent a sample to a laboratory. Thus, if cadmium levels are too high, they have to reopen the bagged products in order to dilute the fishmeal that have exceeding levels of cadmium with other baches of fishmeal that have a much lower concentration of cadmium. This is problematic because the company wastes time and money reopening their products and in the end, the cadmium never leaves the cycle, it simply gets diluted. This is what our team aims to change, and we told TASA that we were eager to help them find a solution to their problem, so they granted us with $2,000 to help us get started with our project. Our team began to focus our project on creating a detection system for TASA to use. But we wondered how early in the fishmeal making process we could actually test for cadmium.

FDR HB Integrated HP 1
FDR HB Integrated HP 2
FDR HB Integrated HP 3

FDR-HB Peru and TASA: Third Meeting - Factory

We wanted to know where in the process, from the fishing to the bagging of the product, could the detecting device be used? This is why our team visited their production plant on June 22, 2019. We were shown the whole process that the fish underwent, starting from the ocean and ending up as powder in bags. The head of the production department gave us specific details about each component of the production process and we started to create a plan. We also learned that TASA is conducting a mapping project to determine the cadmium levels in the fish and product at different places on the production line. Does the cadmium become more concentrated as the fish become compressed into the fishmeal?

As we were talking with the scientists we learned that it takes about 9-12 hours to process fishmeal from fish. We started brainstorming with the scientists about when in the production line we could test. And we realized that since we are creating a bioassay with live bacteria, we needed many hours. So we started to think that maybe we should create a bioassay for the boat so the test could be completed before the bagging process begins.Therefore we decided to create a device that could detect cadmium concentrations in the fish while they were still on the fishing boat.


Consultation with Fisherman

We also communicated with the scientists to have them ask the fisherman whether they would be comfortable performing a bioassay on the boat using live fisherman. We are still waiting to hear back a response on this.

Community influence on our project

  1. Based on our discussions with TASA, we changed our project from mercury to cadmium.
  2. Based on our visit to TASA’s factory we decided to create a bioassay that could be used early on in the anchovy harvest process.
  3. We are making a bioassay that fisherman can use on their boats in the current season of fishing. Ultimately we hope to create a dipstick without live cells that fisherman can use on the boat.
  4. Eventually, we want to work towards a method that can actually remove Cadmium from the fishmeal.

Our Project influence on the community

  1. We will dramatically lower production costs for TASA and provide a more environmentally sustainable approach to detecting and removing cadmium from the fishmeal before production and bagging.
  2. We will help reduce global exposure to cadmium levels, especially as we work towards a removal solution.

Expert Consultant: Dr. Daniel Guerra

Dr. Daniel Guerra is a professor at one of the most prestigious universities in Peru, la Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, and he has been our mentor at iGEM for around 2 years now. Most of the information that we have learned about synthetic biology has been due to him. With his help, we have become independent being able to set up a lab in our high school. He continues to consult with us. We visited with him at his university and he came to our high school to talk with us this season. Also, he is very active on Whatsapp and email in helping us troubleshoot some of our questions and problems.

Hardware Advisor: Mr. Russell Swanson

Russell Swanson is a high school IB Physics teacher at FDR and he has been the official advisor for the iGEM hardware team throughout this season. Mr. Swanson has helped us enormously in several ways. We meet with him every Thursday after school to receive feedback regarding our bioassay design.

Some highlights of his feedback include his guidance in helping us work through the calculations of the concentrations of cadmium, more specifically he showed us how to turn parts per million of cadmium in fishmeal to moles per liter of cadmium. Another highlight was giving us advice on how to build the circuit for the heater. We did not have prior knowledge about building a circuit, especially how to connect the heater regulator to the heater and to the motor, but he guided us throughout that process. He also helped us figure out what materials we should use to build the bioassay.

Math Modeling Advisor: Mr. Steve Markham

Steve Markham is a NASA FINESST fellowship recipient and Ph.D. candidate in Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology. He graduated with a degree in physics from Cornell University. The team and Steve frequently communicate via email where Steve gives instructions and the team asks questions. The team works during the whole week, and once a week they skype so that Steve can give feedback and the team continues learning and working.