Team:UANL Mty-Mexico/syntheticrally


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iGEM UANL 2012

Synthetic Rally

As a colaboration activity with other IGEM teams, the team IGEM-UANL invited the IGEM-CIDEB team to perform an activity called “Synthetic Rally”. This activity consisted in diffuse Synthetic Biology, demonstrate Molecular Biology basics and show Genetic Engineering to middle school students from the “Colegio Americano Anáhuac" through recreational activities. First of all, an introductory exposition was performed and subsequently the rally took place in the school backyard with an duration of 2 hours. Finally, a simulation of an IGEM competition was performed in which the knowledge acquired was tested to build a circuit in order to win the Grand Prize: The Great BioBrick.



Promote the importance and impact of Synthetic Biology, inform about the interesting applications through a funny, entertaining, educative and original activity. This would allow the students learn and enjoy the experience of Synthetic Biology in a very “Silence” way, playing thematic games which can help them understand some difficult concepts such as “DNA”, “Plasmids”, “BioBrick”, etc.

The purpose of the final activity is to simulate an iGEM competition, in which they would apply their knowledge to build an original circuit and win the “Great BioBrick”.

Aware 200 junior high students about Synthetic Biology. Show them the applications, benefits, risks, and how they could improve the world by modifying characteristics to make a better place while protecting the environment.


In order to explain completely what iGEM and Synthetic Biology is several activities were done:

1. First an introduction about Synthetic Biology was given to all the students who were divided in 2 groups.

2. Before going out to the rally, all the students were arranged in 20 small teams composed of 10 students. This is an important part of the activity as iGEM is about team work, so teams had to be very united and try to understand each other to achieve the goals in each activity.

3. The thematic rally was done introducing different concepts and knowledge in every station. This was done in the playground of the school “Colegio Americano Anáhuac”. The participants were junior high students from 7th, 8th and 9th grade. For all the teams to experience every stop they followed different roles. For example, in the stop #1 2 teams started, team 1 and team 2. When the time was over they took opposite paths. Team 1 followed to the right and team 2 followed to the left. This allowed them to go in a circular way until completing every station and against different teams. The logistic was applied to every team in the really.

4. This rally was about 10 different stations, each with a different game according to the topic we wanted the students to learn. There were 2 staff persons in each station, one from iGEM-UANL and one from iGEM-CIDEB. This was the arrangement for a better dynamic explaining the concept of the game and the game itself.

5. Once the rally was over, they built a circuit using the BioBricks they collected in every station. They had to be very creative in order to apply them to a real life problem and win the final price.

6. This activity concluded with a very little award ceremony, where we thanked them for their big effort, attention and dedication to the activity and gave the “Great BioBrick” to the winner. We compared out loud all the circuits built by the whole school, so everybody could listen the different ideas and applications they developed.

7. Finally a second poll was applied to compare it with the first one. This is a very good marker to evaluate our advance in the students´ knowledge and comprehension about synthetic biology. Polls results were included in Jr. High School Surveys Results

General Topics of the Rally

1. DNA and genetic code

2. Genes and proteins

3. Genetic Engineering, sequences and biocomputing

4. iGEM and synthetic biology

5. BioBricks and Biologic Machines

6. Final Purpose of synthetic biology- iGEM Projects

Synthetic Rally STOPS

Stop #1: Plasmid Conjugation!

Objective: Understand the plasmid conjugations in bacteria as a mechanism of natural DNA transference between organisms.

Activity: Each team will hold their hands forming a big circle and passing the “plasmid” (a hula hoop) through the complete team circle. The teams will compete with each other; and the faster team wins.

Materials: 2 hula-hoops and 1 chronometer.

Plasmid Conjugation

Stop #2: Building with BioBricks

Objective: Understand that most of BioBricks constructions increase their difficulty as they increase their size.

Activity: The teams will compete to build the highest inverse tower of cans they can. The highest tower built and during 15 seconds is the winner.

Materials: Approximately 60 cans and 2 chronometers.

Building with BioBricks

Stop #3: Blind Transcription

Objective: Simulate the transcription of DNA in order to form messengers of RNA as a mechanism in genetic expression.

Activity: A labyrinth was drawn over the floor where certain promoters and transcription terminators were lying on the floor. One team member with his eyes blindfolded will crawl across the labyrinth guided by the rest of their team members. The path starts with one promoter; the objective is that the participant recollects as much promoters as he can to apply them in the final activity. In the same way, he will find terminators that will define the end of the activity.

Materials: The labyrinth designed on the floor with a rope, BioBrick promoters pieces, BioBrick transcription terminators pieces, and a piece of cloth for blindfolding.

Blind Transcription

Stop# 4: The Part´s Registry Pool Party

Objectiv: Understand that in order to build a genetic circuit in necessary to verify the Parts Registry; identifying the desired part importance and function, they can find the BioBrick description to know the compatibility with other BioBrick to assemble their genetic circuit.

Activity: In a big, sealed, black folded box, simulate the “Parts Registry”, some BioBrick pieces with different compatibility assemble code will be collocated. One team member will build a genetic circuit according to the basic order of the gene structure, aided by the rest of the team.

Materials: Chronometer, BioBrick pieces with different compatibilities, Construction to build, Box for “Pool Party” and a specific space for the construction.

 The Part´s Registry Pool Party

Stop# 5: Non-passing electrophoresis

Objective: Understand the technique of electrophoresis, where DNA molecules are separated by weight due to a magnetic field, requires special cares with voltage and time to be in the perfect state to avoid molecules to spread out of the gel.

Activity: We´ll collocate a long rope, it will have a mark of 50 cm at approximately ¾ from the beginning of the rope. Each team will manage a DNA which will move across the rope (electrophoresis gel), this basing the activity in a balloon together with a straw in order to let the student to get close to his final objective: the “3/4 of the gel”. Each team will try 3 times to get the most close they can, avoiding crossing the limit.

Materials: 60 Balloons, 60 straws, a rope, ruler.

 Electrophoresis to the limit

Stop #6: Third Grade Inverse Osmosis

Objective: Understand the process of osmosis, which is the regulation of nutrients through the plasmidic membrane with specific receptors.

Activity: The teams will arrange in couples and take a towel. Divided by a line drawn with cones, which simulate the membrane, they will pass a water-filled balloon from one side to another, passing it through all the couples. They will have 3 opportunities in 5 minutes to avoid the balloon explode. The team with more balloons intact wins.

Materials: Cones, 10 towels, 30 water-filled balloons and chronometer.

 Third Grade Inverse Osmosis

Stop #7: “Bacteria Transformation”

Objective: Introduce bacteria transformation as an important part of Synthetic Biology and of Biotechnology.

Activity: Using a pair of oval-shaped containers to simulate the E.coli bacteria, it will be attempted to transform them with the corresponding plasmids represented by rings. The winning team will be the team that can land more rings within the time limit.

Materials: Containers that represent bacteria and rings to represent plasmids.

 Bacteria Transformation

Stop #8: “Implacable search in the parts registry”

Objective: Introduce BioBrick pieces search as an important part of Synthetic Biology and of Biotechnology.

Activity: Two members of each team, with their eyes covered, will be in the middle of a “BioBrick database”, represented by a delimited area, which will contain several BioBrick pieces which they have to find with the help of the other members of their teams, who tell them where the pieces are. The winning team will be the team that gets more BioBricks within the time limit.

Materials: Delimited Area, bandages to cover eyes and “BioBricks”.

 Implacable search in the parts registry

Stop #9: “Proteins Production”

Objective: Understand the messenger RNA translation inside the ribosome for protein production and to specify the importance of proteins in the acquisition of certain characteristics to develop a specific function.

Activity: All the integrants of each team will form one row. They should pass under their legs a watermelon covered by liquid soap without dropping it. The watermelon passing will represent the protein production, and once it falls will be the end of the production. The team with the largest protein will be the winner.

 Proteins Production

Stop #10: “Extraction and purification of DNA”

Objective: Getting plasmid DNA in Synthetic Biology is very important because inside the plasmid of the bacteria is inserted a desired BioBrick. Therefore, it is necessary to extract and purify the bacteria that contain the desired plasmid through molecular biology techniques.

Activity: Each team will receive a well-sealed box with several layers of cardboard and tape. The box will represent a bacterium and the different layers of newspaper and tape involving the bacterium will represent the plasma membrane. Inside the box will be another box lined with in the same way containing inside "DNA plasmid molecule" (pipe cleaners). Both teams form a circle and at the center a box will be place. A dice and a pair of mitts oven will be given to them. Each member of the team will be rolling the dice, the one that get an even number, shall be entitled to take the mitts oven and try to grab the box, if he or she gets an odd number, loses the opportunity. The first team in opening the box and get the "plasmid" will win.

Materials: Sealed cardboard boxes and DNA molecules.

Extraction and purification of DNA

Final Proyect

Objective: Simulate an iGEM competition, in which a biological circuit will be design, it will contribute to solve a problem of any kind of nature using the BioBricks parts obtained through the rally(Not necessary to use all the parts obtained).

Explanation: A brief explanation will be given of how BioBricks works. The list of BioBricks contains two types of genes: regulatory and functional. All work requires energy, and if it imposes a new function to an organism, then it will require more energy.

The deviation of the use of energy of the new function can seriously alter its metabolism and affects its growth. To reduce that effect, we can make use of regulatory genes. These allow turning on or turning off a gene in response to an environmental stimulus, saving energy for the body.

An example will be provided with both types of genes to clarify its role as well as the objective of the exercise:

Problem: Air pollution with carbon dioxide (CO2).

Identify what is required to approach the problem:

1. To arrive to the atmosphere

2. To remove CO2

3. To take into account the energy expenditure


DRAW A FLOW CHART: FLY [GVP] -> To detect CO2 [CO2R] ->

To remove CO2 [CO2A] -> To detect holes in the ozone layer [UVR] -> To produce Ozone [OZ].

Proposal: Larry will be able to remove CO2 (CO2A) and activate that function only in presence of the contaminant (CO2R), saving energy. Also produce gas (GVP), which will allow it to ascend and reach the contaminated areas of the atmosphere. Finally (as an additional feature), our bacteria will may produce ozone (OZ) when it detects high levels of UV radiation (UVR), since it will be an indicative of a hole in the ozone layer.


1. Ask 3 problems that students will try to solve with a focus similar to the one used in the previous example.

2. Each team must design at least one biological device to try to solve one of the problems presented or from their own creativity. Let them know that they can solve other problems that are not listed.

3. They will be have 10 minutes to draw their biological device and to make a flow chart of the operation of the set of genes implemented.

4. A representative from each team will present their proposal briefly.

The Great BioBrick

At the end of the 10 minutes, all the teams will tell an iGEM member their proposal and the amount of BioBricks used in it. Then, all iGEM members will discuss which deserves the prize of the rally based in the logic of the proposal, the amount of BioBricks used, and the utility of the proposal in the modern world.

The team selected will present their idea to the rest of the teams, they will have to describe their project, the BioBricks used and why they used those BioBricks.

The prize will be “the Great BioBrick”, a Lego brick shape boxed lined with foil containing “Gansitos”. “Gansitos” is a Mexican snack cake, similar to Twinkies, with the exception of strawberry jelly along with the creamy filling and that is covered in chocolate with chocolate sprinkle topping.

Final Activity Result

Through this activity many objectives were achieved, from the promotion of iGEM and Synthetic Biology until the fact of 200 hundred junior high students understanding the whole concept. And not only that, but they actually understood things further that the basis, we introduced terms as DNA, proteins, osmosis, plasmid, BioBricks, transcription, translation, Parts Registry, electrophoresis, bacteria, extraction, purification, etc. Generally these concepts are very difficult to understand, ever all in junior high students, but through this activity, in which they actually experienced the concept itself, it was much more easy, funny and important. We decided to implement this synthetic rally to spread the concept, but more than knowing what synthetic biology is, we achieved to develop a geed feeling about it in the students.

During the activity some students talked to us and commented that this activity was really funny. It was of course because of the games, but taking advantage of the fun of the activities, introduce these complicate concepts was the interesting part. It was of course difficult to us as well to adapt each concept to a game that helps students understand it. At the time of the logistic, as they were a lot of students, we used a megaphone in order to pay attention to the coordinator, whom announced the time to change to another stop. In general, as they were relatively a few students per stop, it was pretty easy to explain them the biologic concept and the development of the activity.

At the end the final project was the most important part of the activity, because they actually simulated to be in an iGEM competition. They invented a new organism with the BioBricks they recollected through the rally. It was very interesting and fascinating watch students applying their knowledge and creating new “organisms”. Our effort to make them understand synthetic biology was very satisfactory and productive. Actually generating an interest in the junior high students in IGEM was our best result. They even asked for the whole competition and how to participate. They were really interested and fascinated. Us, like a team, were very proud of our team work for a good cause, and of course because we don´t know, maybe one of them someday will create an organism that cures cancer or AIDS. Our conclusion of the activity is that sweat, effort, tiredness, creativity, and team work gave excellent results and satisfaction for the students and for us, plus a very good time of fun and knowledge acquirement.

This activity had a significant importance as the students learned and enjoyed the experience of synthetic biology in a very “silence” way playing thematic games which helped them understand really easy some difficult concepts such as “DNA”, “Plasmids”, “BioBrick”, etc. In every station 2 teams competed to win “BioBrick” pieces. The absolute winner got 1 piece and the other team got only 1.

At the end of the activity, in which they recollected “BioBricks”, they had a time to build a circuit. Every team made a different one with a very innovative use. As the BioBricks were different, the final circuits were very original. At the end the best construction won the “Great BioBrick”, which was a box wrapped with aluminum paper filled with some snacks which they enjoyed a lot.


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