Team:Tec-Monterrey EKAM/iGEMJunior

From 2012.igem.org


As part of our Human Approach, we took on the task to promote the iGEM High School competition on our university’s high school campuses. Back in February, we sent e-mails to the Science Division directors informing them about iGEM and offering to help them should they want to participate. Although three of the five schools expressed interest, only Silvia Bernat Sarret, science director from Eugenio Garza Sada High School Campus (PEGS), decided to go ahead with the project. The others were concerned about the lack of time and some thought that their student’s level was not up to the task.

Chemistry teacher Nelly Margarita Martínez (who also teaches an Introduction to Biotechnology class) was selected as the head instructor. The project was offered through announcements in all relevant classes. We had the fortune that PEGS has an advanced biology program (aimed as a sort of pre-med high school) and that some of those students became involved, forming the core of the group. Ironically, no one from the Introduction to Biotechnology class chose to join.

After the round of announcements, the first meeting with the students was held on a Friday, March 16th. Fourteen showed up, nearly half of them from 6th semester. With the project description deadline looming near, the first order of business was to give them an introduction to iGEM and synthetic biology in order for them to brainstorm ideas for their goal. Some came up with anti-freeze proteins, others with microbial electrogeneration; there was enthusiasm about those ideas, but time and difficulty had to be taken into consideration. We proposed to them that a simple enzymatic process could be doable with both temporal and technical constraints. After some candidates were discussed, the final selection was the dye Tyrian purple.

The team went on to research the enzymatic pathway of the production of Tyrian purple in the mollusk from where it is extracted, the importance of the dye and the availability of an organic synthesis process. Through the next couple of weeks we helped them sort out the information they were getting and to structure a plan. The result can be found in their website (http://2012hs.igem.org/Team:PrepaTec_GarzaSadaMx).

Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get in touch with the researchers to obtain the genetic constructs they needed to produce the dye. Since there was no money available for gene synthesis, the project ground to a halt. Since the main goal of our mentorship was to give the students hands-on experience with actual biotech labwork, we decided to carry on and do all the planned protocols but using standard parts instead of the ones that were not available.

During May and June we taught the group all the basic laboratory procedures: how to properly use a micro-pipette, how to prepare media, how to autoclave, how to clean a biosafety cabinet, how to prepare agar plates and how to streak them. After that, we led them through a mini-prep, digestion, agarose gel electrophoresis, gel recovery, ligation, preparing chemo-competent bacteria, chemical transformation, recovery and selection in antibiotic plates.

All the students had a wonderful time and were very grateful since they practically experienced the whole college-level Genetic Engineering Lab (save for PCR) in the course of a few weeks. Three of the 6th semester students chose to enroll in Biotech Engineering this August, and one of them even integrated to our college team during the summer.

The faculty from PEGS was pleased with the results and wants the school to continue participating in iGEM HS. They approached us and we gladly offered our help to coordinate the team again. With the help of SyBRE, the student group we founded, the iGEM HS Team will be better organized and will be able to tackle more ambitious projects. Also, we’ll try to get at least another one of ITESM’s high schools involved. With the experience gathered from this first hurried try, we are certain that the next team (or, hopefully, teams) will have a more distinguished role in the competition.