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Human Practices

iGEM London Boot Camp

Click here to learn more about our introduction week to iGEM

This June University College London, Birkbeck and London Biohackspace attended a jointly organised iGEM boot camp featuring BioBrick making in the lab, presentations from key iGEM team advisors as well as Skype talks with iGEM Headquarters representatives, DIY spectrophotometers, wiki design and extra lab skills.

The purpose of this successful week-long event was to kickstart all team projects and bring all members to the same page in our iGEM journey. The knowledge and experience acquired by everyone enabled the individual teams to start making the most of their summer work which is now underway. All participants benefited from laboratory induction sessions, and smaller groups divided into specialised tracks.

The DIY track group assembled a functional spectrophotometer at the London Biohackspace using 3D printed components, while the Software track group learnt the basic progrsmming required in developing the iGEM wiki and submitting BioBricks to the registry. Finally, the extra lab group received insights into the most efficient cutting edge cloning technologies relevant to iGEM work.

The boot camp culminated in the Mini Jamboree where all different institution teams presented their work over the past week to the rest of the attendants including highschoolers, and the track groups also presented their specific projects. The networking opportunities throughout the boot camp strengthened our teams, and wrapped up with a fantatic snacks and drinks sleection after the jamboree!

School Science Busking

Click here to learn more about our science busk at William Tyndale Primary School, Islington

As the Birkbeck iGEM 2015 team, we found it essential to involve the wider community in the ideas underpinning iGEM, more broadly about synthetic biology and genetic information. Since most primary schools in the UK do not have a teacher specifically trained in the sciences, we took the oportunity of a science busking at a William Tyndale Primary School in Islington. Our aim was to use fun props and games to illustrate key concepts in genetics to an eager audience of four separate classes of 9-year olds and 11-year olds.

The planning necessary before the big day was instrumental in our success. We devised scripts to involve all our team in the presentations and games while leaving room for inevitable improvisation, designed engaging and practically feasible games with a tight time limit, crafted attractive props and finally rehearsed numerous times to ensure our busk was going to be memorable.

We came up with four different games. The first one involved a talk about germs and a game where clapping children would react to glitter on their hands when a team member in our clapping row introduced it at a random time. The glitter symbolised germs, and the game showed the children unequivocally just how easily they spread through brief hand to hand contact. Our second game elegantly illustrated the notions in Mendelian genetics by using red and white beans as alleles for flower colour. The kids were given varying combinations of these beans and had to work out what colour they produced.

Cautiously, we introduced DNA as a concept to the children in our third and fourth games. We assigned volunteers a nucleotide base and through complementary binding and strand annealing we created a human DNA. Finally, paper DNA with action codes on was given to groups of pupils. After decoding their piece of DNA, the whole class acted out what it specified all at once as the DNA was “activated”.

The reactions from the most enthusiastic children were unforgettable and hilarious in equal measure, and we can safely say that even the most sceptical of kids became fascinated by the end of our busk.

Drinking, writing, and busking...

Click here to learn more about activities with other iGEM teams

What have we been doing, you ask? Well, for starters, we've been forwarding our articles for the Amoy China 2015 iGEM team whose Newsletter reaches hundreds of people.

In the Amoy Newsletter Number 5, which is just below, to read more about our team, go to p.9-11, and on p.59-66, we describe the kinds of human practice events we've already taken part in. For example, we talk about the iGEM London BootCamp that we jointly organised with the UCL 2015 iGEM and the London Biohackspace 2015 iGEM teams! And now we're planning another London iGEM meet (at the end of July), and a more general UK iGEM meet (at the beginning of September)!

Amoy Newsletter Number 5 - See pages 9-11 and 59-66 for published Birkbeck Content

Our second article published, also courtesy of the Amoy China 2015 iGEM team, focused on which software we have come into contact with throught our iGEM experience. In the Amoy Newsletter Number 6, which is just below, see pages 10-11 for the comments from our team on the software we had interacted with prior to the 28th July when the issue was published.

Amoy Newsletter Number 6 - See pages 10-11 for published Birkbeck Content

Our third and final article published in Amoy China 2015 iGEM team's newsletter expanded on our project's human practice. In the Amoy Newsletter Number 7, which is just below, see section 25 for an article based upon interviews we conducted with vets from The Brooke in Pakistan, Ethiopia and Nepal. The interviews highlighted the difficulties vets face with diagnosis on a day-to-day basis. Four of these interviews can be viewed in the next tab.

Amoy Newsletter Number 7 - See section 25 for published Birkbeck Content

Using Smartphone Microscopes to take ‘cell-fies’!

Click here to learn more about a device, which may complement our phage-based diagnostic test, that was viewed positively as a device on its own by four vets from The Brooke we outreached to.

After interviewing and surveying vets from developing countries we learnt that clinical practitioners in these countries did not have ready access to microscopes in rural areas but would find them useful in diagnosis. We also believed that access to a microscope could make using a phage-based diagnostic test easier and more accurate as the signal produced could be more easily detected.

We decided to make a device to convert a smartphone to a microscope. We ordered 3D printed plastic clips using files published by Pacific Northwest National Laboratories and glass beads kindly donated by Thistle Scientific and Biospec Products. We used the device to examine pre-prepared slides of housefly mouthparts and the cross section of a tilia stem.

The pictures we took were magnified around 100x but more adjustments would be needed to improve the focus at this magnification and to increase the magnification. We found we could take better 100x magnification pictures by using a 3.5mm glass bead attached to the lens on the screen side of the smartphone using a lump of plasticine. This had the added advantage that it didn’t require any 3D printed parts and it allowed us to take ‘cell-fies’ like the one shown!