So You Think You Can Synthesise
What is SYTYCS?
Our outreach activity So You Think You Can Synthesise, which we shorten to SYTYCS (pronounced "sit-iycs") was designed for our team to interact with the public. Finding an innovative way to have two-way communication is challenging and we strived to have a unique offering. We also wanted to build upon the success of the 2014 Macquarie team, who started an online reality contest as part of their Human Practices.
Benefits of the online reality format:
- Show the public that synthetic biologists are young, intelligent, everyday people
- To save our audience time, only one short video to watch each week
- Clickable links to the voting form to gauge public opinion
These are the Key Issues Addressed
- Improving viewer engagement by keeping videos short and succinct.
- Integrating laboratory practices by designing episodes to directly reflect synbio techniques and the team decision-making processes. In episode three, transforming competent cells to produce a green fluorescent protein was explained.
- Enabling direct viewer input through a polling system, allowing viewers opinions to influence outcomes. In Episode one 224 votes were submitted in the span of 48 hours. This result lead to Jimmy Gel Runner winning and Solar Synthesisers becoming our team name.
- Integration with project by each week's video directly linking to significant aspects of our project the "bigger picture" of chlorophyll synthesis was explained to the public.
We brought the World’s First Synthetic biology Reality TV show back by popular demand! This year SYTYCS played a key role as a human practice activity in the education and entertainment for our viewers. This year we created four episodes - each 5 minutes long - all directly linking to a key aspect of our 2015 iGEM Project.
Season 2 of SYTYCS was shared across the world, entertaining 30 different countries and over 2,290 minutes watched. SYTYCS was used as a platform to address the key components of our iGEM project. This platform was used to portray our project and allowed the public to express their interest in our project. This two-way communication allowed the public to understand the "bigger picture" of the potential applications of synthetic biology.
So You Think You Can Synthesise - an innovative educational tool
SYTYCS is our primary education and public engagement activity. The concept was first developed by the 2014 Macquarie iGEM team and further improved by us. This year we aimed to create content-rich videos than could be used as synthetic biology learning tools beyond the scope of iGEM.
Being a synthetic biology reality show this series is the definition of novel - only being completed once before in the world! This series provides the viewers with an insight into working in a research laboratory as well as learning the fundamental protocols used within biomolecular sciences.
For this years’ SYTYCS we consulted with instructors, peers, iGEM alumni, and viewers about how we could enhance this platform and add value to the outreach aspect of our project.
It's all about the two-way communication when it comes to synthetic biology
Finding an innovative way to have two-way communication was a key aspect our team was dedicated to reach.
We used SYTYCS as a public engagement tool to create a bi-directional dialogue about synthetic biology. Season 2 employed a polling system allowing viewers to directly influence outcomes. By the public determining the result at the end of each video we aimed to make them feel as if they were part of our project and its story. Viewer votes were responsible for deciding our team name and also directed our approach for business implementation strategies and ultimately decided which contestant was most engaging, therefore appearing in the next episode.
The MQ iGEM 2015 YouTube Channel was used to stream the SYTYCS videos, ensuring ease of public access and the ability for viewers to engage through comments and "liking".
Meet the Contestants
Through the voting system viewers were encouraged to use their votes to influence outcomes such as the team name and proposed business implementation strategies, along with which contestant was their favourite.
Undertaking this creative activity in our Human Practices gave our team an insight into how the viewers felt and what they learned and understood from watching our series. We felt having a creative input promoted better engagement with our team and the project as a whole. As well as enabling the viewers to feel like they are very much a part of our team’s success and therefore, part of our story.
SYTYCS videos were released over a period of 6 weeks, with an initial promotional video being circulated to inform the public that Season 2 was in the works! Overall season 2 of SYTYCS accumulated over 500 unique views in over 30 different countries as well as receiving upwards of 30 comments to our YouTube channel or through the voting link. From the comments and the sheer amount of countries that participated within SYTYCS it is easy to understand why the public could not get enough of this year’s season!
- Contestants pitched their favourite name for our team and a succinct summary of our project aims. Viewers were then able to drive the direction of our activity by voting.
- The business implementation challenge required contestants to consider the real-world applications of hydrogen gas. Viewers learned of the expected outcomes and potential significance of our project.
- Through collaborative efforts with a number of iGEM teams worldwide we created a step-by-step guide through the transformation process. This informative video aimed to engage both the general public and scientific community.
- The final episode was created as an homage to the Japanese Iron Chef TV series. This episode played on the parallels between lab-work and cooking as well as aiming to educate the public on the significance of chlorophyll.
"My vote is for Solar Synthesisers with 'Hydrogen-hero' as team mascot!" - Louise
Special thanks to these iGEM teams who contributed in So You Think You Can Synthesise. Click a logo below to see their wiki:
"Hi guys, this type of outreach is actually quite remarkable! I heard about this from a friend and had to check out the episodes. I also appreciate how you guys have endeavoured to combine spreading knowledge re: your project with creating something entertaining. I am sure it will be hugely appreciated." - Tanzeem
To see our videos hosted on the iGEM domain navigate to our videos page.
In Episode 1 Jimmy Gel Runner received the most votes and therefore our team name is Solar Synthesisers. Biobrick Ben was eliminated. Episode 2 votes resulted in the elimination of Pascal the Promoter. What were the results for Episode 3? Sam the Solution was eliminated. Episode 4 was a show down between Jimmy Gel Runner and Lauren the Lab Monkey. Navigate to our results page to see the voting statistics.
Reusability and Accessibility of the Software Used
The SYTYCS platform is easily utilised by other teams. We demonstrated this in Episode 3 where we invited four other iGEM teams from universities around the world to compete in a "Transformation challenge". Each team filmed their elected competitor undertaking the challenge and subsequently submitted the video footage electronically to our iGEM team for inclusion in the SYTYCS weekly episode.
Creating the 4 episodes was relatively easy. A student who had minimal training in movie making used the Mac iMovie software. This reality TV format is reusable by other iGEM teams to help spread the word on synthetic biology.
The voting platform was sourced from the PollDaddy website. We were able to create polls and share them to many different social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram.
Filming SYTYCS took less than 2 hours each week and an additional 4 hours was used for editing the videos. Uploading the videos to YouTube ensured ease of accessibility for students, the scientific community, and the broader public. The success of our episodes has demonstrated that by utilising standard technologies such as a camera phone and generic video editing software, the creation of interactive and informative videos is possible.