Team:University College London/Notebook/Preparations


Notebook: The First Three Months

Preparations | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16

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Our journey began in January 2012 when each of us was selected for the iGEM team. We decided to use the remaining time of term 2 – until revision and exam time – to learn about the competition and to brainstorm our project. After a few introductory meetings we analysed our favourite iGEM projects. We also talked to some past UCL iGEMers who highlighted the importance of choosing the project wisely, planning ahead and most importantly sticking to deadlines! As they say: without really understanding the past you cannot win in the future!

In February, after having our iGEM history covered, we began our search for the project idea. At first, we brainstormed on general topics that could be potentially developed further at a later stage. During one of our meetings each of us wrote down an idea and sent it around for others to comment/develop, basically we just wrote anything and everything that sprang to our minds once we saw the title of one particular idea.

We generated some brilliant possibilities such as bio-sensors, systems comparison (yeast versus E. coli), yeast longevity (using a new gene found in grapes), a detection/filtration system, tackling the plastic waste problem in the pacific gyre, metal extraction, fuel efficiency/production and Wi-Fi grass! We even had an idea related to the upcoming Olympic Games e.g. creating a system which would deal with sweat and therefore reduce discomfort for people with artificial limbs. We also had a few medically related ideas such as diagnostics and fungal infection and neurodegenerative disease detection. This astonishing variety of topics covered the major three application areas of synthetic biology.

Fortunately for us, we had more than one exciting prospective project to choose from. After several democratic dot voting sessions we had three semi-finalists in front of our eyes: biofuel efficiency and production, detection and filtration system and the plastic patch. In fact, the filtration and detection system idea was later made more specific, it became an enteric virus detection system, and the plastic patch evolved into an idea that tackles the problem by either degrading the plastic or by clumping it together into a massive artificial plastic island – which we dubbed “Garbage Island”.

At the end of this meeting positive energy was in the air, most of us felt that our winner idea was truly one of the semi-finalists. We also knew that out of three the Garbage Island seemed to be the most visually understandable concept, which might be an advantage when communicating our idea to a general public.

It seemed unfair to make our final decision straight away. That’s why we decided to work on each of the semi-finalists in small groups and develop each project further. As a follow-up we had several sessions where we debated in groups about the possible scope of each of the projects, their flexibility for the creation of new BioBricks as well as their iGEM factor which in our minds stands for overlap of science, engineering innovation, originality and an ability to communicate to the wider audience (in one of our team member’s words: “the ‘wow’ factor”). On the way to our final decision we explored possible challenges that we would need to face with each of the projects in order to satisfy bronze, silver and gold requirements. To enhance our understanding we wrote proposals for our three semi-finalists. The aim was also to get some constructive criticism from our supervisor as well as to get a grip on how realistic our ideas actually were!

To make sure we understood how good BioBricks are constructed and characterized, each of us did an analysis of our “favourite” BioBrick and our software gang did the same for their favourite modelling. This made us think about our potential project candidates even more critically and evaluate the importance of the flexibility of the project in terms of BioBrick creation, modelling and public engagement prospects.

Time really flies! Decision day arose on 24th of March. Our team of twelve with our already best friend – coffee – met to have the last discussion, which had to end with the final idea in the bag. Despite the fact that all previously mentioned proposals sounded plausible, it seemed that one stood out the most – the Garbage Island. After all three ideas were presented we had one last proposal from one of our team members. It was a CO2 sequestration project, which was well researched and had a strong scientific basis. After this new input it seemed that the final decision could go either way. For a moment it seemed that the new idea dominated. In order to make sure that we were making the right decision we took a moment to consider pros and cons of both projects.

After another half an hour of passionate discussion the team voted and … The Garbage Island was announced as the project idea, that UCL’s iGEM 2012 team will be working on this summer! :-)

We have to mention that CO2 sequestration was brilliant idea too which should definitely be passed on to our next year iGEMers’ idea pool.

So now only May examinations are standing in our way before we can start our summer’s iGEM adventure.