Team:Missouri Miners/Community



Community involvement is a high priority for the Missouri Miners iGEM Team. Every year the team does several community outreach events, including hosting educational events, ethical discussions, and a class on Missouri S&T's campus. The following sections detail the activities that the team organized and participated in over the past year, as well as advances the team has made as a student organization and design team at Missouri S&T.

Educational Events

Exploring Synthetic Biology Informational Event

In the past, our iGEM team has held educational events about synthetic biology on our campus. However, this year the team wanted to not only educate the public, but to also get people involved and excited about synthetic biology through hands-on learning activities. Thus "Exploring Synthetic Biology" was born.

This event was designed primarily to educate students about synthetic biology and genetic engineering as a whole, as well as to provide information about the goals of the iGEM foundation and Missouri S&T's iGEM team in particular. Hands-on activities included a plasmid modeling activity found on the Community Bricks section of the iGEM website (courtesy of iGEM British Columbia 2011), a “quick and dirty” DNA extraction activity provided by one of the team's advisors, and a synthetic biology Jeopardy game. There were also a few short informational presentations in addition to the hands-on activities. Surveys were distributed both before and after the event to gain valuable feedback from participants; data was utilized as part of two team members’ Public Opinion research project. Prizes were given to attendees periodically throughout the program to encourage participation and reward the winners of the Jeopardy game. The event was held on a Saturday afternoon (March 3, 2012) from 1 to 4 pm. There were approximately 20 Missouri S&T students in attendance, not including the iGEM team members who helped during the presentations and activities.

The first presentation of the afternoon served as an introduction to the field of synthetic biology and examples of applications in previous iGEM projects. Discussions were focused on considering problems in the world that can be addressed through synthetic biological approaches. This presentation was similar to the one given at our team's 2011 Synthetic Biology Informational.

A plasmid modeling activity followed the first presentation of the afternoon. This activity was found on the Community Bricks website and was originally designed by the 2011 iGEM team from British Columbia. Segments of multi-colored lengths of pipe cleaners (“genes”) were given to groups of three to five attendees, along with information sheets that described what the pieces represented and three different scenarios that can be addressed using synthetic biology. Participants had to consider parts that would allow the microbe to survive in the given environment, parts that would carry out the desired task, and parts to be used as safety devices such as "kill switches." This gave participants a concrete idea of what it means to engineer a biological system, as well as what might be required to solve a specific problem and how safety systems might be implemented. An iGEM team member was assigned to each group to lead them through the activities, letting them know of the rules for each round and what was to be accomplished. Students were given prizes for successfully completing the activity and presenting their “plasmid” to the audience.

The second presentation was a more in-depth talk about the synthetic biology process. From identifying genes in nature to isolation to characterization, topics were covered in a logical progression to give the audience a better grasp on what iGEM does, and how teams do what they do. This section was focused on giving students from a variety of backgrounds (mostly engineering students) a clearer understanding of molecular genetics techniques and their importance to synthetic biology.

A simple DNA extraction activity followed the second presentation. This activity was supplied and instructed by one of the team’s advisors, Dr. Dave Westenberg. Every participant was given a plastic tube filled with one gram of wheat germ. Through a series of reactions with simple reagents, every student was taken through a stripped-down protocol for extracting DNA from cells. The steps were “quick and dirty” using warm water, soap, and then alcohol to perform the required reactions. Wood swabs were used to transfer the DNA (mixed with some carbohydrates and proteins) “glop” from the reaction tube into a clean Eppendorf tube, which students were encouraged to keep as souvenirs.

The last presentation included information about current applications of genetic engineering in industry and agriculture around the world. The purpose of this section was to provide concrete examples of current uses of synthetic biology that many of us encounter in our everyday lives, such as the production of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH), aspartame and various other food additives, and nutritionally enhanced or pest-tolerant food crops. In discussing these examples, broad questions regarding ethics were interspersed with a discussion of the many differences between engineering microorganisms versus macroorganisms. Ethical concerns and transparency are often tied in with the goals of industry and legislature, and possible dilemmas were discussed with the group’s participation. The presentation was concluded with emphasis on the idea that as technology evolves, so should ethical discussions and regulations; although we may not have the "right" answers to the important ethical questions, the important thing is to continue to engage the public in a dialogue about the ethical issues related to synthetic biology and its applications.

Finally, a Jeopardy game was used to wrap-up the event. Questions were incorporated into the game based off of the information that was covered in the three presentations and reinforced during the activities. Groups of three to five participants were paired with an iGEM team member, though the team member was not allowed to directly tell their groups the answers. The team members served as a reference of whether or not the group members were on the right track. The winning group was given first choice of prizes. The rest of the prizes were given away in random order as door prizes. Prizes included color-changing cups with the team’s logo, gift cards to local businesses, and merchandise from the university bookstore.

Our team was hugely successful in preparing all of the different activities and presentations for this event. Advertising for the event was achieved through various means, including: campus-wide and department-specific listserv notifications, flyers in all academic buildings and residence halls, campus radio ads, and chalk on the sidewalks all over campus. Feedback from attendees was extremely positive. Twenty people attended the event, which was a sufficient amount for the event to be engaging and successful, although the team had hoped for attendance of at least thirty individuals. In the future, attendance could be improved by holding such an event during a more convenient time than a weekend. We also believe that as the team increases awareness of iGEM and synthetic biology in the community, attendance at educational events is likely to increase as well. The team is excited to build on the success of this event even more in the coming years.

Speak UP Speak OUT

Speak UP Speak OUT is a series of events hosted by Leadership and Cultural Programs at Missouri S&T. These moderated discussions are held periodically throughout the year on a variety of controversial topics. In spring 2011, our team suggested synthetic biology as a topic for discussion. Although our team was not directly involved in the planning of this event, the discussion was successful in engaging students from a variety of backgrounds in many topics associated with synthetic biology. The event received a lot of positive feedback from participants and organizers alike. This fall, our team will be working more closely with Leadership and Cultural Programs to plan another Speak UP Speak OUT about synthetic biology. Previous successful programs involved students who did not know anything about synthetic biology upon arrival, which may or may not be the case in the future. It would be ideal to assess the audience’s perceptions of the field during the event in order to address possible misconceptions held by students who are unfamiliar with both the risks and benefits of genetically engineering living organisms. Information such as this collected at the event can be used in future human practices projects for our team. This event will function as both an educational opportunity for attendees and as a way to spread awareness of our iGEM team on campus and the organization as a whole.

St. Louis Engineers Week

Every spring the St. Louis Science Center in accordance with the National Engineers Week Foundation has student design teams from multiple universities come and present their work, machines, and/or research to the general public. The Missouri Miners iGEM team was the only non-core engineering design team asked to attend Engineers Week. At the event two team members presented our 2011 iGEM project, The Microbial Glucose Sensor, along with general information about iGEM and synthetic biology. To demonstrate the concept of synthetic biology and how awesome the living world is, the team brought along four shadow boxes, each with a single plate with bioluminescent bacteria. Each plate was inoculated with a colony in the shape of the iGEM logo, Missouri S&T logo, St. Louis Rams logo, and Cardinals logo.

Other Educational Events

In April 2011, our iGEM team went to the local high school and presented to their Science Olympiad team about synthetic biology and iGEM. The synthetic biology activity that we led explained how different systems could be put together using different parts, and how using different parts yields systems with different functions. The activity also demonstrated the concept of using standardized parts, represented by foam blocks, for easy biobrick assembly. Both students and advisors seemed very interested. We were happy to find that both groups learned a lot from our presentation and activity.

Our team also performed this same activity with different groups visiting campus, including a high school leadership group. After the event, several of the students expressed interest in participating in iGEM or synthetic biology research in the future.

Academic Contributions to the University

Bio 375 - Biological Design and Innovation

Our iGEM team (in conjunction with one of our advisors, Dr. Dave Westenberg) created a course through the university called Biological Design and Innovation I (Bio 375) to teach students how to design a synthetic biology research project. This course is open every spring semester to any student interested in upper level biology coursework, not exclusively iGEM team members. The purpose of this course is to teach students how to design a synthetic biology research proposal from conceptualization to forming a concrete research plan. This serves two main purposes for the team: to benefit team members by formally teaching them how to develop a research proposal and to develop research proposals from which the team can select a project each year. The course was offered for the first time in spring of 2011, which allowed for the development and selection of our previous project, the microbial glucose sensor. An additional project was developed, which was later funded by Missouri S&T's OURE Fellows program to conduct research on the effect of education on synthetic biology. During the 2012 spring semester, four proposals were developed involving: condensation of the nitrogen cycle, microbial cellulose, malaria-fighting bacteria, and mycolic acid degradation to fight tuberculosis. The latter of the four listed proposals was ultimately selected and evolved into our team’s project for the year.

Undergraduate Research Conference

Participation at Missouri S&T’s Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) accompanies the team’s normal activities and research. Team members often get funding through S&T's Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience (OURE) program to participate in research for iGEM projects, and then present these projects at the URC. Team members can develop project proposals in the spring semester either individually or through Bio 375. These proposals are often entered into the Project Proposal section of the conference. One such project proposal, The Effect of Education on Public Opinion of Synthetic Biology, developed in Bio 375 in the spring of 2011 was presented at the URC and selected for an OURE Fellowship. The project won first place at the 2012 URC in the humanities division. The report for this project can be found on the Public Opinion Research section of this Wiki. Our team prides itself on fostering the necessary skills that allow for members to win multiple awards in the conference; one of the goals of our team is to positively affect members by developing these skills, and winning these awards is the realization of that goal.


Becoming an RSO

In Fall 2010, our iGEM team became a recognized student organization (RSO) at Missouri S&T. This was a critical step for our team because we do not have any consistent or stable funding sources outside of our university. Now our team has access to funding from Student Council under a Professional Projects fund. This has allowed us to start purchasing our own equipment and secure our own lab space. This has been a huge jump for our previously struggling team. In addition to funding, being an RSO allows our team access to additional exposure and the ability to host legitimate functions at the university, such as our Synthetic Biology Informational in spring 2011 and the Exploring Synthetic Biology event this past spring.

Student Design and Experiential Learning Center

Once our team obtained RSO status, we applied to be a part of the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center (SDELC). This is an organization that oversees and provides opportunities and resources to student design teams on campus. Missouri S&T has a highly-valued tradition of outstanding student design teams across multiple engineering disciplines, including Solar Car, Concrete Canoe, Solar House, Human-Powered Vehicle, Miner Baja SAE, Advanced Aero Vehicle Group, Formula SAE Racing Team, Robotics, and Steel Bridge. We intend to increase the diversity of student design teams on campus because we are a diverse organization that brings a unique aspect of design to the university.

Being a part of the SDELC increases the exposure of our team and increases awareness of iGEM and synthetic biology. The SDELC also provides us with many additional resources, such as staffing support and funding opportunities. We became an official SDELC design team in January 2012.

Most Improved Organization Award

In Spring 2011, our iGEM team won the Outstanding Student Leaders' Most Improved Organization award. This honor was presented to us by Missouri S&T's Corporate Development Council and Student Council. Our iGEM team was nominated based on the reasons presented below.

In the past iGEM's success had been limited by small membership, lack of funding, poor leadership, and lack of lab training that made it difficult for new members to get involved. However, with the hard work of a few students and the executive board elected in December 2010, iGEM began to flourish. Missouri S&T iGEM had gained status as a recognized student organization and applied to be a student design team (which was approved January 2012). We gained a lab space in Schrenk Hall. Membership increased by about 30% in 2011 alone, and non-officer members had become much more active, whereas before only a couple of officers did most of the work. iGEM had also raised about $1000 from fundraising efforts the spring semester alone, received corporate sponsorship, been approved for funding from S&T's Student Council, and been approved to receive funding from the professional projects fund in the future. The executive board had formed a spring class to teach new iGEM members lab techniques and develop quality research project proposals that were later presented at the 7th Annual Undergraduate Research Conference. Some iGEM members had also applied to do research through the Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience Fellows program about public opinion of synthetic biology and how education can affect that opinion. Missouri S&T iGEM had also recruited members studying majors other than biology and chemical engineering. We had scheduled a synthetic biology informational for April 13, set up an ethical discussion about synthetic biology through Speak UP Speak OUT, and spoken to the Rolla High School's Science Olympiad team about synthetic biology.


In-Class Informationals

Our iGEM team collaborated with faculty members in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, and Psychology to give guest presentations in classes. These presentations covered the basics of what iGEM is all about. The main goal of these presentations was to recruit new members for our team, while at the same time educating whole audiences on reasons why synthetic biology is such a diverse and exciting field. We talked about how standard parts work and the breadth of applications of many different types of iGEM projects. We also gave a run-down on some of our team's past research and why being a part of our iGEM team is such a great experience, from late nights in the lab to having fun and learning at the Jamboree.

PRO Days

PRO is a one-day preview, registration, and orientation program designed for future first-year students admitted to Missouri S&T. One of the activities for students and parents is to attend an organization fair to familiarize the students with extracurricular opportunities on campus. We created a poster explaining the different aspects of the iGEM organization, and our team in particular. We also created and handed out recruitment brochures explaining in detail why it is so awesome to be a part of iGEM. We attended every spring PRO day and talked to students and parents about why we think synthetic biology is so important and how synthetic biology research can be applied across many disciplines. This not only served as a great recruitment tool for our team, but also helped spread the word about this exciting research.

Recruitment Meeting

During our first meeting of the school year, we had a Recruitment Meeting during which we informed interested students about what iGEM is all about and what our iGEM team does, including current research and other organizational activities. The recruitment meeting was advertised to new students through fliers and through email to students who signed up for more information at PRO days and other organization fairs. Attendance exceeded expectations, and many new students that attended became regularly attending members at general meetings.

Organization Fairs

Besides PRO Days, our iGEM team participates in a couple of different organization fairs on campus. At the beginning of the fall semester, our team had a booth with other S&T design teams at Miner-Rama, an involvement fair where student and community organizations meet with students on campus. This organization fair is especially useful to new freshman on campus looking to get involved in extracurricular activates.

Phi Eta Sigma, a national honor society for college freshman, also held a recruitment fair on March 1. We attended with our recruitment brochures, a poster explaining different aspects of iGEM and our team, and told participants about our upcoming Exploring Synthetic Biology event.

The student design teams on campus also participate in open houses for the university, and as a new member of the student design center, our team began participating in these open houses this year. Similar to a PRO Day or other organization fair, we set up a display, talked to prospective students about iGEM and synthetic biology, and handed out recruitment brochures.

These organization fairs were primarily used as a recruitment tool but also helped to spread the word about our team and synthetic biology as a whole.