iGEM Leicester Test Page 2012

Human Practices

Visit our blog
Follow us on twitter @iGEMLeicester

    Citizen Science Experiment


To get help with sampling organisms that might colonize or degrade polystyrene we set up a "Citizen Science Experiment" scheme to enable members of the public to take part. The section below shows the invitation to "Citizen Scientists" to take part as promoted on the team blog:

"Here's a part of our project that you can join in with!

As you may know, finding the elusive polystyrene eating micro-organisms is the first challenge of the project and this is where members of the public can become ‘Citizen Scientists’. As strains of bacteria that degrade polystyrene have been found in the soil using high density polystyrene as their sole carbon source, we're going to try and see if we can find anything naturally occurring, growing on expanded polystyrene by getting everyone involved.

To get involved all you need is the University of Leicester environmental sampling pack (Citizen Science kit), which can be bought from a team member or here on the Blog. In the kit, you will find a strip of expanded polystyrene in a self-seal bag (for sending it back to us in), experiment protocol, a risk assessment and a stamped, addressed envelope for returning the samples back to us. With the kit you can then bury your sampling strip wherever you like be that your allotment, garden, flower bed or plant pot leaving it for a few months for bacteria to grow and then send it back to us.”

What’s in it for me?

Once we receive the samples back we will culture the bacteria that will, hopefully, have grown on the strip using the carbon locked within as their source. If your strip is successful, you can get your contribution attributed in all of our work – Citizen Scientists whose samples harbour the most useful polystyrene-eaters will be invited to be authors on the paper reporting the team’s findings, with all participants being acknowledged.

Video to aid in the experiment procedure:

Response Video from UCL planting their CSE experiment kit:

Map of some of the CSE kits planted:

View CSE Kits on a larger map
View CSE Kits on a larger map

The CSE was used to get the public involved in trying to find bacteria that could live on, and degrade expanded polystyrene (EPS). We asked them to bury a strip of EPS in the ground and leave it for a length of time (around 2 months), to find out whether bacteria might establish colonies, thus indicating that a colony could at the very least bind to, and possibly degrade EPS. The kits were Risk Assessed, and a copy of the assessment was included in the kit, along with instructions, a strip of EPS, and a self seal bag to put the EPS into. This was all contained in a stamped, addressed envelope at a cost to the public of £2 (+50p postage if bought online via our blog to cover the cost of sending the kit to the person). We recently had our first batch of kits back, ready to analyse.

Frequently asked Questions:

> How deep should I plant the strip? If you are wondering how deep to plant the strip, you can plant it as deep as you want. The main thing to keep in mind however is being able to re-locate the strip ready to send back to us (can be aided by the photo). The small segment at the square end (about 2cm) also needs to be accessible to the microbes we are locating so this part needs to be in contact at the least.

>Should I protect the strip from removal? If you have children, dogs or gardeners it is advisable to plant it so that it cannot be seen, be that deeper in the soil so it is not visible, in harder to reach places such as under bushes or secluded areas, or covered by a plant pot. (Remember to take the photo to help re-locate).

> How long should I leave it for? Each experimental kit has a due date on them for you to dig up and return the strip. If you are unable to make this deadline, it is best to leave the experiment in for longer rather than sending it in sooner.

>Where should I plant it? You can plant the strip in any location you like, be that your garden, allotment, near a pond or in a plant pot. In order to increase your chances of finding the microbe it is best to plant more than one kit , sampling different areas of your garden which may have different microbial habitats (multiples can be ordered vie email As well as in gardens, it is good to think outside of the box to try and find unique places where the microbe maybe living to increase your chances of finding the elusive microbe.

Don’t forget to read and sign the experiment protocol if you have bought a kit. If you have any Questions, please don't hesitate to email us at

What your work has given us:

Since this experiment was launched, around 40 CSE kits have been returned, allowing us to plate them out and find bacteria able to degrade polystyrene. The best kit that has been returned so far has been kit 01#502, which has yielded 2 different types of bacteria (we're not sure whether they are the same species, but instead just different strains). Both types of bacteria were growing together on a polystyrene-minimal media plate, which could indicate a mutual relationship in polystyrene degradation. Later experiments (see polystyrene growth experiment) were conducted to confirm they were using polystyrene.

The 01#502 kit was the main focus of our experiments in the later stages of August and September, as they were bacteria living on the polystyrene. Several streams of experiments were then run to isolate DNA, sequence the genome and give us a much better understanding of the processes involved in the polystyrene degredation.

    Sponsored walk

On Saturday the 3rd of March, some of our team undertook a sponsored walk along the River Soar, from Leicester to Loughborough - Our first fundraising event. The money we raised helped close the gap to the $2000 target to pay for registration to iGEM by the 31st March. For more information about the walk, please visit the blog or facebook

Photo of the team on the sponsored walk
From the walk we raised over £600 before we started the walk, however the final figure after collection of all the money was much higher at £975 . The total distance walked was closer to 18 miles in the end as there were miscalculations in the distance, but it was a very fun day, getting lots of people interested in the project as we walked along.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sponsored us on the walk. Without you, and the kind people at the Genetics department none of this would have been possible



The Team has attended a total of two BioBlitz events, one run by the city council and one by the University environment team. Bioblitz events are a fantastic way for the community to get involved with the wildlife on their doorstep. The aim is to record as many different species as possible within a certain time frame and to encourage the public's interest and knowledge of local biodiversity. Scientists, students and the community come together in local green spaces for a great educational day out. This brings together people of all backgrounds, just like the Citizen Science aspect of our iGEM project.

From the events we raised a lot of awareness about our iGEM project as well as giving us an opportunity to sell some cakes and Citizen Science kits.
To draw more attraction to our stalls we bought bubble guns and balloons which brought people to the stall for a chance for us to talk to them about synthetic biology and our project, Following up every conversation with business cards to remind people where to get more information about iGEM and our project at our blog.


for more information please see the blog ,



"For our supporters outside the UK we have been running a RocketHub profile, complete with a team created video explaining the project. RocketHub allows funding in dollars (or other currencies) from people all around the world allowing you to help the team. Check us out at and see what we've come up with.

But what is Rocket-Hub? It is a sponsorship-reward system whereby you donate a certain amount and we give you cool things in exchange. So if you want a bit more recognition for your sponsorship, or just want some iGEM goodies it could be right for you! We even have UoL iGEM t-shirts up for grabs for larger donations, as well as sponsorship opportunities to get your name or business name on the t-shirts. Head over to the site to learn a bit more, or check out the widget on the blog. If you like the look of one of our rocket hub rewards, simply click on it, to bring up the full list and make it possible to fuel our project."

So far we have yet to raise much from our RocketHub site, even after trying to get an article on the American Plastics Association news site. Not only that, but we just missed out on the Sci-challenge event at RocketHub which had a large number of scientific projects. It seems that we may have launched a little too late to reach our target audience.


GENIE (Genetics Education Networking for Innovation & Excellence) is the University’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Genetics, and they have been supporting our competition entry from the beginning. Their much appreciated support has ranged from letting us use their equipment to advertising the Leicester iGEM team to schools through their Dynamic DNA outreach day.

The RocketHub video was shot on a SANYO camera that GENIE lent us and this has also been invaluable in documenting some of our experiments on video. As well as the camera we were also able to borrow GENIE laptops as and when we needed them - for example for editing the wiki at home or in clean areas of the lab, and when advertising iGEM at the University's Open Days. On these occasions we used a GENIE laptop to allow visitors to sign up to our blog to get more information.

Another way GENIE has helped is by distributing our Citizen Science kits to schools all over Leicestershire through the Dynamic DNA event for Schools. In early September 600 year 9 school children came to the University to learn about Dynamic DNA and iGEM had material and CSE kits for distribution to the teachers accompanying the children. Finally the GENIE team placed news articles about the iGEM team in their quarterly News Letter and gave us great social media coverage by tweeting (and re-tweeting!) information about our events, fundraising and progress.


We Launched a E-Quiz allowing people to take part in a fun quiz that taught them a little about iGEM as well as to see how much attention people pay to blog entries. At a cost of £1.50, bought easily though paypal on our blog, we expected a large amount of people to be interested, but so far only a few entries have been bought. The quiz was designed for all ages and ability levels with rounds on Science, Geography, Music, Riddles, and "Name the Sweets" as well as rounds about the blog and iGEM in general.

The E-Quiz has an innovative design allowing everyone in the world to be able to participate as it is distributed vie email with people being able to pay over paypal. This makes it accessible to everyone who has an internet connection. However as the quiz is worldwide, there is an honesty clause to make sure people don’t cheat, with the riddles round making it possible for us to realise if people have been cheating

the E-quiz is set to run until we get back from Amsterdam allowing people to participate during the regional jamboree. To buy your entrance please visit the blog or click this link E-Quiz or email us at

E-Quiz Has Now Closed.


The university of Leicester iGEM Team has been advertised multiple times on the radio, with our project leader having an interview regarding the citizen science project to the audience of Tea Time with Ben Jackson Live on BBC Radio Leicester.

The team has also appeared on Down to Earth, the BBC Radio Leicester show hosted by Dave Andrews due to the link between the Environment Team at the University and the project leader. As it just so happened the Environmental Manager Dr Emma Fieldhouse has a plot at the Aylestone Allotments where the Down to Earth program was recording a radio show, and invited the team along to talk to the other plot holders, with many more Citizen Science kits being sold and planted in very rich bacterial locations around the allotment. This valuable link between the iGEM Team and the Environment team brought about by the aims of the project to reduce waste and recycle has made it possible for the team to utilise quite a few of their organised events to advertise.

Both of these broadcasts caused massive increases in blog views as well as resulted in increased sales of Citizen Science kits, making them a valuable advertising source to a wide audience

    In the Press

We have had many news articles in the press, from an article in the Leicester mercury to multiple appearances from the university press office, GENIE, the University of Leicester Environment team and in articles and newsletters. To read some of the articles please feel free to visit the archives on the University website or search in the search bar

    Public Lecture

We are hosting a public lecture on the 4th of October to raise awareness about our project to get students interested in taking part next year. Not only that, but we will be teaching the audience about the benefits of synthetic biology to the greater community from students doing iGEM but also scientists researching in the field to capture a wide audience. This will also be a great opportunity for the team to practice their presenting skills and a have a run though the presentation for Amsterdam as this will also have an appearance in the program for the event. Along with a display of some of our results we have gathered over the summer. There will also be a chance for the audience after the lecture to purchase the citizen science kit to keep the data coming in, and to enter our E-Quiz

for more information about the public lecture, or to register yourself a place please email us as

Public Lecture Poster

    Heathrow Scientific

Dr Badge, Christopher, Luke and Anthony met up with the company's Global Sales Director, Mark Shelton, in a University car park to receive the delivery: a trolley load of ex-display laboratory equipment. We had time to chat with Mark about the project and for him to take us through the collection of equipment and consumable items. The boxes of equipment included (amongst many other things) a mini-centrifuge, an orbital shaker, a Rota-Filler 3000 (a type of pipette filler for larger volumes), a large box of disposable spreaders and a wide assortment of containers, dispensers and tube racks. The racks included an adjustable universal test tube rack that you could turn upside down for easy emptying of liquids.

All of this equipment has been of great use in the project, especially the orbital shaker and Rota-Filler 3000 when running the Polystyrene Growth experiments in the minimal media as these had to be kept shaking for long periods of time. The Mini centrifuge and mini interchangeable tube rack was also essential for running the PCR as we didn't have a centrifuge in the lab that would accept small tubes. The spreaders were vital for the colony counting experiments.


It is fantastic that, despite the dire economic situation, companies like Heathrow Scientific are still able to come up with creative ways to support great ideas like iGEM, and their contribution is hugely significant


On Thursday 21st June, four members of the iGEM Leicester team, accompanied by Dr. Badge, attended the Styropack Innovations Conference in Ford, West Sussex. Christopher, William, Emily and Luke put together a presentation about the project to deliver to the conference, which included representatives from Synbra (Styropack’s parent company), Roundstone Nurseries, Jablite and B&Q.

On the visit to Styropack we had a tour of the factory which was a amazing opportunity to learn a vast amount of information about polystyrene which has been very useful in the project, for example the expansion process utilising pentane. As well as that we learnt about innovate ways the company are tackling the problem there expanded polystyrene product has on the environment with recycling initiatives with B&Q and designing new Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) forms of expanded foam that have similar properties to polystyrene however can be industrially biodegraded yet still retain most of the same chemical strengths. This also gave us some ideas about ways we could lead our project in the future to turn the waste polystyrene into the raw material for creating the PLA.

The visit was also a great opportunity to teach people about iGEM and a bit about synthetic biology which we managed to do with our presentation, not only that but we spoke to a wide variety of people about iGEM and the positive impacts synthetic biology can have, following up with information on where to find out more about the project and iGEM.

The trip down to the Styropack innovations conference was also the first time we made and presented a official presentation for our iGEM team. Although this was a challenge, we feel it was necessary practice for the presentation to come at the UK iGEM Meet up and then at the regional final in Amsterdam as well

Sponsorship received from the visit included a donation of £500 in exchange for 200 Citizen Science kits to be distributed to their work force, as well as a large box of the raw material “sugar” which has been a extremely valuable tool in creating our polystyrene selection media


    British plastics Federation

The British Plastics Federation donated £1500 to help us pay for the European Jamboree Registration.

    New England Biolabs

New England Biolabs generously donated several 1Kb and 100bp QuickLoad DNA Ladders, several sample packs of Q5 and Q5 hot start High-Fidelity DNA Polymerase, some alpha- competent E. coli (high efficiency) and some ligase.


We had a very generous donation of reagents including: Phusion High-Fidelity DNA polymerase, CloneJET PCR Cloning kit, GeneRuler 1kb and 100bp DNA Ladders, GeneJET Gel extraction kit, GeneJET Plasmid Mini Prep kit, GeneJET WHole Blood Genomic DNA Purification kit, T4 DNA Ligase, FastDigest Sau3A1 and FastDigest BamH1 samples.


We were given 2, 50 unit gel extraction kits, and a 50 unit PCR purification kit, worth a total of around £200!


£600 of reagents including taq DNA Polymerase, Ligase, Molecular Weight Markers and Kinase. All of which have been very useful


Promega have given us a 40% off voucher which is to be used for ordering new supplies for the genetics department of which we have used a large amount of communal stock