It is fascinating to see what other iGEM teams are achieving and it is so valuable to pool the skills of so many imaginative, motivated people. These are all the teams we have had the privilege of working with.
We have been mentoring the VIT Vellore team on their mathematical modelling. They contacted us because they were having problems with the programme Symbiology. We suggested MATLAB and introduced them to the programme. In weekly Skype meetings we formulated and solved differential equations to describe their system. During the course of this mentorship we assisted them with the debugging and optimisation of the programme and technical support. To view the results of this collaboration visit VIT’s modelling page.
An important aspect of our project was understanding how our individual projects, that all involve using GM bacteria for therapeutic purposes, would be perceived by the public. Public perception can often be a barrier between scientific progress and real world application. Therefore we teamed up with iGEM Copenhagen and iGEM Leiden who are also both working on medical GMOs: Copenhagen is working on a bubble gum for the diagnosis of female hormone imbalance whilst Leiden is working on a therapeutic hydrogel for treating burns. Together, we produced and distributed a survey to gauge public opinion and understanding of genetic engineering.
The main objectives of our surveys were to determine the public’s knowledge of GMOs, identify any specific areas of concern with genetic engineering, access their comfort level with GMOs in medicine and specifically therapeutics and with our projects in particular, e.g. the different delivery methods or modes of actions of our drugs. We are using the data from the survey to inform our Human Practices Outreach work so that we can narrow the gap between understanding and use of genetic engineering.
We were very lucky to receive samples of C.difficile supernatant from the Nottingham team. These have helped us to characterise the C.difficile AIP and we hope to use it to test our C.difficile detection system.
UCL have developed a fantastic sustainability scheme called Little Leaf in conjunction with the LEAF. You can read more about it here. We have helped them to develop a protocol for maximising the recycling of resources from previous iGEM teams, which we hope to distribute across the iGEM teams to encourage and foster the spirit of sustainability. We do believe iGEM and all lab scientists should take greater care in their environmental impact, despite the wonderful work that they do; we all have a responsibility to minimise our impact on the environment at the same time.
In our survey people often pointed out that a video would be a good way to explain the concepts of Genetic Engineering. Therefore, we decided to team up with other iGEM teams to produce an interesting and accessible video answering frequently asked questions and explaining common words and techniques used in genetic engineering. We worked together with National Chiao Tung University, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Toronto and University of Ottawa - with the University of Queens coordinating the collaboration.
We organised a skills exchange day with the University of Exeter iGEM team following identification of key complementary skills across the teams. This enabled an incredibly productive exchange of skills in a win-win situation for both teams. We were very fortunate to make use of Exeter iGEM's technical expertise with wiki design, whilst adhering to the wiki rules, particularly regarding hosting content on our site, which was very useful. We worked together to develop new designs and ensure they were responsive. This session was incredibly helpful and has contributed to the long term optimisation of our wiki and its design.
In return, we were able to offer assistance to the Exeter iGEM with lab skills. We provided 1:1 guidance with step by step instructions on how to transform a strain of bacteria the team had not worked with before. This required familiarisation with the protocol and equipment required. This day was hugely mutually beneficial for both teams and truly demonstrated the iGEM spirit of collaboration and complementary skill transfer.
We also collaborated with Exeter on public engagement and education. We provided Exeter iGEM with an infographic explaining the basic principles of genetic engineering. It was created to provide the information in a very clear manner such that people from all backgrounds and ages, especially families, were able to understand it. Thanks to Exeter’s data collection we received great feedback on the infographic and they were able to further inform us about public understanding of genetic engineering.
The Newcastle iGEM team graciously hosted our team at the UK iGEM team meetup on their campus. We were able to present our ideas and progress to each other, helping to improve our presentation skills. The team bonding and social events enabled us to discuss our projects in great depth with each other which helped spark ideas and collaborations between teams. Our collaborations with Exeter and UCL iGEM also originated from this meetup!
We have been in touch with iGEM RICE over Skype to discuss general brainstorming processes and give each other strategical input, especially regarding our human practices and outreach activities. Together we came up with the idea for comparing regulation differences between our countries. RICE later decided to expand this idea by carrying out an extensive meta analysis.