As a team, we have been focusing on the theme of education, and promoting synthetic biology outwith the science community. The bridge between the public and our team has been our children’s night-light, ‘Furri-Lux’, a great tool for children and parents alike, powered by our bioluminescent bacteria. To enhance the impact of our project, we displayed a stall at Glasgow Science Centre’s ‘Meet the Experts’ event and invited some students studying Lab Skills and Advanced Higher Biology at a nearby secondary school to learn more about how we operated with aseptic technique. Alongside this, we also utilised and promoted an easier, safer alternative to common gel staining techniques using Azure A.
The thought of using our iGEM project as an opportunity to promote the public’s view of synthetic biology was inspired by iGEM’s view that as an iGEM team, we are ambassadors for the face of genetic modification and all the benefits it can bring to people. They stressed that we must operate in a safe, sensible and responsible way in order to avoid damaging the already controversial face of the field of synthetic biology. This was spurred on by many a conversation over lunch revolving around the public’s, often misguided and uneducated, opinion of genetically modified organisms. Therefore, not only did we strive to be safe, sensible and responsible scientists, we aimed to help the public get the facts about genetic modification, allowing them to make more informed decisions on the subject in the future.
'Furri-Lux’ is a night-light styled around the idea of a ‘friendly monster’ – he’s the good monster that fights off the bad monster under the bed! It is aimed at children who are scared of the dark, as well as those who would like a pet but cannot have one - however, it is mostly centred around children who have a budding interest in science, as we found there is a larger demand for that. Furri-Lux acts as a container for our bioluminescent bacteria, with a transparent window in his tummy. This allows the UV-A light found naturally in sunlight to reach the bacteria, signalling daylight and switching off bioluminescence when it is not needed, and also to allow the bioluminescence to shine out at night and comfort the child. Safety was a large concern and played a significant part in how the product was designed, as it would be used and handled by young children. To aid the children and their parents in learning how to safely use their night-light, and try to teach them some very basic facts about the bacteria they were interacting with, we wrote bedtime stories, using ‘Furri-Lux’ as the hero of the story, with the help of children’s author, Stuart Reid.
In order to build our genetic circuit to make E. coli glow in the dark, we needed to construct three components: the UVA light sensor, the inverter, and the bioluminescence genes. Our UVA sensor is natively found in Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 and has three parts: a sensor protein, a regulator protein, and a promoter that is switched ON by the regulator protein in the presence of UV-A light. We use a transcriptional repressor to invert this signal, so that bioluminescnce is switched OFF in the presence of UV-A and ON in its absense. We used the bioluminescence genes from Aliivibrio fischeri to produce light. These genes were previously used by the Cambridge 2010 iGEM team in their BBa_K325909 BioBrick, which contains all six bioluminescence genes in the native operon directly from A. fischeri. We chose to rebuild this bioluminescence pathway from scratch using BioBrick assembly of all six genes together with E. coli BioBrick Ribosome Binding Sites (RBSs) from an RBS Library that we designed for this purpose. As a side project, due to our interest in genetic circuits, a Bistable Switch was set up with two repressor proteins. We also took part in this year’s Interlab Study as characterisation of many of our new BioBricks involved measurement of GFP expression, which was the focus of the Interlab Study.