and the Geneticist's Cell
Synthetic Biology has the potential to revolutionize numerous fields. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.
The fields of genetic engineering and synthetic biology present opportunities to vastly improve fields like medicine, environmental engineering, and agriculture. However, it also has poses very real ethical dilemmas. Being such a new and, admittedly intimidating topic, many people are show skepticism or even fear towards these fields. This prevents them from gaining understanding just what synthetic biology and genetic engineering are in the first place. Our team thought there was no better way to demystify these topics than with a little magic! If we could present these topics in a familiar setting, we could maybe remove some stigma and present the information in a fresh manner.
A large focus for our team this year was education and outreach! We wanted to get people within and without our community thinking about these topics and what we represent. We spoke to different groups of different ages and gathered information from them on how they already felt. From there we shaped further surveys and materials to disseminate information in the best way possible.
Before we got started, we needed to get a general understanding of the public's stance on these fields. To do so, we reached out to the local community. This included speaking at the a local church and discussing the topics in depth from an outsider's perspective. From such events, we generated feedback on what they knew and did know, developing a baseline of public awareness.
Using the results from the initial outreach efforts, we then worked with Missouri S&T's Dr. Daniel Shank in our psychology department to develop a comprehensive survey. Together we put together a survey to get an unbiased look at how people felt about a range of topics related to genetic engineering and were able to link these feelings with their indicated personal beliefs and backgrounds.
Our team also created and showed off a series of plates, like the one pictured below, to demonstrate simple applications of genetic engineering. This served a dual purpose. It was used as a teaching tool for our new members to get a taste of what we try to do as an organization. Then, we took these plates to events to show people unfamiliar with such a thing a very simple example of what genetic engineering is capable of.
We took a familiar idea, such as a wizard school house cup, and spun in some genetic engineering magic. In this way, we could draw in those who knew little to nothing about the topic and make in fun and interactive so that learning might come easier.
The Original Plan
Our original goal was to develop a bacterial house cup. Each house would be a strain producing a distinct homoserine lactone to signal the headmaster strain. The headmaster strain would sense the best or fastest lactone and in turn fluoresce that house's respective color, denoting the winner of the cup.
At this time, we have only been successful in developing the colors for the headmaster to express in the presence of each homoserine lactone. However, that has not stopped us from sharing the magic of genetic engineering with the community!
These colored strains can be used in a technique called painting with bacteria, as seen to the left. Also, our adviser, was kind enough to donate some of his strains to us as well so that we could increase our color palate. We were able to create some truly unique pieces to serve as examples to the community. We also plan to continue to use this technique for educational purposes for younger children at upcoming events.