For many, science and art are considered vastly distant from one another, but a scientist knows that their work requires individual artistry, and an artist in many ways understand the science within their art. The Synthetic Biology Art Exhibition took place in Stockholm, 25 meters below the surface in the old nuclear reactor R1. Artistic expressions from all corners were accepted, everything from audiovisual video works to petri-dish multiplayer experiences. Some were funny and beautiful, while others were disturbing and thought-provoking. Everyone was eligible to participate regardless of the artistic prowess or expertise of synthetic biology. From the artworks submitted, 5 winners were rewarded with a presentation in Osqledaren online (KTH magazine) as well as Medicor online (KI magazine).
→ Read more about the art exhibition and view the booklet with all the artists
An interactive workshop, organized as part of the Art Exhibition, where participants would extract DNA from strawberries with everyday items such as dish soap, salt, rubbing alcohol, plastic bags, coffee filter, and toothpicks. When done, the visitors could keep their extracted DNA in an Eppendorf tube!
When speaking about DNA, we have found that the idea of it is too abstract. In the lab-on-wheels session, we invited visitors to isolate DNA and hold it in their hands. We also demonstrated general lab equipment such as pipettes and microtubes so they could experience the lab atmosphere. The strawberries were crushed inside a plastic bag together with a mixture of water, salt, and dish soap. The mixture was finally filtered through a coffee filter to retrieve the DNA in the strawberry juice. The visitors could see their isolated DNA inside the microtube after ethanol addition.
Thanks to the incredible job of our Media team on our Instagram account, promoting the different events and our project, we were reached out by Promega. They were particularly interested in our Synthetic Biology Art Exhibition since they also have an internal art competition where Promega's employees can showcase their artwork. After a small brainstorming session with Darcia Schweitzer, Content Lead, we decided to do a takeover at Promega's Instagram account, to show what a week in the life of iGEM Stockholm looks like. During this week, we showed art presented at the exhibition, inviting everyone to participate virtually. We also shared short interviews with the attendees, explaining what parts they liked the best.
In the end, we received very positive feedback from Darcia's team, who were inspired by the idea and decided to continue with the TakeOver idea and propose it to other iGEM teams. Given the success of the exhibition, we were interviewed by Jordan Villanueva, Sr. Science Writer at Promega, who wrote an article about us and the event.
Demo school project
Synthetic biology is, relatively speaking, a new field of science, and so the general knowledge is low. To make an impact, we wanted to inspire and inform youth, and so we came up with the School Project where we would visit schools and students of different ages. We began with Linköping, where we visited Atlasskolan and met with a total of 100 students ages 6 to 12! We know that talking is not the best way to build excitement, and synthetic biology is hands-on, so we prepared two exercises; Learning about microscopes and drawing bacteria.
We asked the classes, "what do you know about bacteria?", and followed up with a short lesson that led to great discussions about the central dogma, replication, and epigenetics. These kids are not to be taken lightly…
Then followed our two exercises, observing bacteria through a microscope and then drawing artistic and conceptual versions on top of a provided template. Most of the children drew bacteria that killed people (yikes!), but some made friendly bacteria. Bacteria has got a nasty rap!
Creating a fun and engaging introduction to Synthetic Biology is a great challenge, and something we would like to continue developing. We had a great experience at Atlasskolan and experienced a high sense of engagement and curiosity, one of the children even asked it was possible to join!
A month later we went closer to home and, together with SGEM (our alumni organization), visited Norra Real, the most eldest of public high schools in Stockholm to inspire future high school team. We visite the natural science program and their second year, research-oriented class.
Bioethics and Biolegislation
We got the chance to learn about biotechnological innovation and bioethics in an event organized by our iGEM Stockholm team. The event took place at Stockholm University, thanks to the collaboration with the SU-Young Faculty Professors Association. We were very fortunate to have Joanna Applequist, a European Patent Attorney from Valea AB, and Jesper Ahlin Merceta, an expert in Bioethics, from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, as our guest speakers.
Joanna Applequist gave us an introduction to intellectual property and provided an overview of aspects to consider when pursuing a patent for an invention. She also explained to us the patentability criteria focusing on the life science field and talked about the process of drafting and prosecuting patent applications. Importantly, Joanna provided a list of dos and don’ts for inventors who wanted to secure intellectual property rights to their technology.
On the other hand, Jesper discusses some moral trade-offs in the development and use of biotechnology. We talked about how possibilities of biotechnology, such as making human beings resistant to harmful or deadly viruses, be weighed against moral constraints such as, for instance, not using fetuses for research purposes. He also made us question our selves about the values that are at stake and how should society deal with such moral trade-offs.
Summer Research School Visit
A collaboration between us, iGEM Lund and Astra Zeneca Summer Research School organized by Unga Forskare, the Federation of Young Scientists in Sweden. Also, a collaboration with Chrysillis Judy Magaard Polhaus from Biotechacademy in Denmark who provided us with Transformation Kits.
We invited the 52 students of the Astra Zeneca Summer Research School, to learn about our projects, their applications as well as synthetic biology. These students in grade 8-9 of upper secondary school and year 1-2 of High School, were eager to learn and asked many curious questions. iGEM Stockholm took the opportunity to ask the students if they would be willing to try Phage Therapy and if so, in what way.
Four of the students raised their hands, and claimed that they would be okay with consuming our product. Out of them, a girl said she would like to eat it, another girl agreed and said the would also approve to consume. Then a boy said he would accept our treatment if he did not have another alternative to cure his infection, and a girl said she would take our product if she could drink it.
The day started off with a security briefing and presentation of ourselves. Then we divided the students into three different groups, and the groups alternated lectures with lab classes.
World Water Week
When it comes to that which keeps us afloat, the World Water Week (WWW) is one of the most significant annual events in the world, as it shines much-needed light on global water issues while facilitating productive discussions. The week is hosted by Stockholm International Water Institute in the massive Tele2 arena, a popular site for major concerts and events. Along with the likes of Facebook and Microsoft, iGEM Stockholm 2018 and 2019 were invited to participate in a panel discussing antimicrobial resistance and water relations, and also host a young professional booth. iGEM Stockholm 2018 had the honor to present their winning iGEM project Biotic Blue and also gave way for iGEM Stockholm 2019 to share our project, Esther phage therapy, tackling an alternative to antibiotics; a common pollutant of our waters.
During WWW, we were also allowed to introduce our project to professionals and receive comments from specialists. Further, valuable feedback was obtained, which was of importance in the further shaping of our project. Perspectives upon the functioning in different physiological conditions, such as ¿low pH? , were obtained. Later on in the lab, this would be demonstrated by experiments that showed that effectively in these conditions, there is no adequate response.
National Television Morning News Visit
Rebecca, Anali and Stella from our team were invited to speak on the Swedish morning news programme Nyhetsmorgon. We used this platform to reach out to the whole of Sweden as a part of our marketing strategy for raising awareness. We talked about the menace that antibiotic abuse/misuse has created in the form of resistance of the pathogens and how Esther contributed to improving the efficiency of phage therapy in combating antibiotic resistance. We had aimed to catch the attention of the policymakers, government and research institutions who are of significant importance in bringing out phage therapy as a first-line treatment in the future.
Biology should be fun and interactive, so we created a game to interact with the non-scientific community. We had seen positive responses from the boardgame Plasmido by iGEM Stockholm 2018 and decided to launch our own card game pixid (yes, it's an anagram). The name is simple with pix coming from picture and id from it. This means picture it!
Pixid is accessible to all generations and to players with a different cultural background as the cards are picture-based. The game aims at raising attention and awareness around antibiotic resistance. Some basic questions like "What represents sickness to you?" are asked to the players. The questions progressively become more specific to our project. Using the provided scoring board, the player will be given a point if their guess is one of the possible answers. The best answer chosen from the survey will be given 2 points. Some players mentioned that this playful approach is so fun that they are motivated to get the highest score.
As a powerful educational tool, the cards can provide visualization about what might happen in the nature when we take antibiotic. One of the kids agrees that we need to take only one pill per day if we get sick after being told the story of sea creatures become sad because the medicine (antibiotics) enters into their home. So, she doesn't want to make the sea creatures sad so she only take one pill as the doctor prescribed.
For children, these cards can also be used as a memory game, or as a visual complement in explaining the story behind our project.
Biomimetics summer project 2020
As one of our members, Jonas Johansson, has a lecture position at Beckmans college of design, there has been a dialogue from the beginning of how synthetic biology could become part of their design education. Beckmans offer bachelor degrees in product design, fashion, and visual communication, and provides the possibility for summer projects, so there are plenty of venues to explore.
To understand what could be done further, Jonas and his collaborator, fashion designer Linda Nurk, were given introduction lab exercises, from Rasmus Bengtsson in iGEM Stockholm 2017. This later led to inviting Jasper Bloemen from Glimps, a synthetic biology design studio that focuses on educational workshops within design.
Jonas and Linda will shortly after the Jamboree travel to France to participate in the Biofabrication weekend, an intense 2 days, facilitated by Glimps to learn more and define the 2020 project.