The iGEM category Human Practices deals with informing and teaching the non-scientific public about synthetic biology. The main target of our sub-group is to include people of all ages, so every person gets to know the possibilities but also the risks of synthetic biology. Furthermore, we want to encourage them to deal with the advantages and disadvantages, to think critically and build up their own opinion.

Children & Teenagers

To ensure the scientific and technical progress, we think that it’s really important to raise children’s and young adults’ interest in Biology in order to facilitate the contact with Synthetic Biology. To reach this aim, we followed different approaches. In collaboration with iGEM FAU Erlangen, we designed the Game of Cells – a board game for children in kindergarten and primary school – which we presented at the summer fest of the local Max-Planck-Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology. In this game, the player starts with nothing and has to collect organelles to build up a whole cell. With every component you collect, its function is explained in comparison to a city (e.g. the cell membrane as analog to the city walls). To raise the tension in the game, the cells have to fight against each other, components can be stolen from other players and some organelles offer a big advantage in certain situations!

Figure 1: The preparation of the Game of Cells is running on full blast.

We also prepared a practical lesson with primary school students in which we performed some microscopy experiments as well as the extraction of DNA from paprika. The theoretical part included getting an understanding of the differences between living and non-living objects and facts about the general structure of cells and the human gut microbiota.

Figure 2: The primary school students we visited were pretty excited about performing their own experiments.

Furthermore, we wanted to give teenagers the chance to visit our laboratory and learn some basics about synthetic biology. We hence invited high school students from Blista, a school for visually impaired students in Marburg. We gave them a lecture about the different features of bacteria and how we can make use of them in the age of Synthetic Biology. They were really interested in what they could do in a biological laboratory. So, we showed them a typical day of our work including the preparation of over-night cultures, streaking out bacteria on LB-agar plates and smelling of different bacteria and yeast strains, and microscopy of fluorescent cells to give them the best possible experience. The students also brought a so-called optophone with them, which distinguishes between brighter and darker light inputs and converts them into different tone pitches. With this optophone, the students examined populations on plates and could hear the difference between a colony and the agar plate. At the end, we discussed our project ideas and further application possibilities of synthetic biology.

Figure 3: Sharing a day in the laboratory with students from the Blista was a whole new experience for us, too.


Many other teams have done similar Human Practices projects before but we wanted to cover all generations. Seniors are also a very important group of our society because of the demographic change which is effecting nearly every country in the world. The reasons causing population aging don’t have only disadvantages, e.g. older people are able to live independently to a much greater extent than a few decades ago. Many seniors are also still able to make a living through their own labor. That’s why they have to be remembered as a very important group in terms of elections, essentially determining the policy and political decisions of many countries. To make an optimal decision, a fundamental knowledge is of great importance. For these reasons, we visited seniors who keep an active lifestyle to give them an introduction to Biology and tell them about modern biotechnology and applications of GMOs as many of them haven’t even heard of DNA in their school time.

Figure 4: For easier explanations of the general structure of DNA, we used a self-built model.

Public Engagement

At the end of August, the prime minister of Hesse, Volker Bouffier, visited the center of synthetic microbiology (SYNMIKRO) and the Max-Planck Institute where our iGEM laboratory is located. We used this opportunity to present our project to him and to raise the popularity of iGEM in the government and the non-scientific population. He liked our project ideas and was impressed by the combination of science and public engagement in the iGEM competition. Also, he encouraged us to go on in our research career as it ensures the scientific progress and thus, leads to solutions for future problems.

Figure 5: Here, you can see us presenting our poster to the prime minister.

To reach people of all ages, we had a stand at the Hessentag, an annual event in the federal state of Hesse with hundreds of thousands of visitors and differing locations. We isolated DNA out of paprika together with present kids only with items they could find in their own household (e.g. knives, sieves, spiritus etc.). Meanwhile, we talked about synthetic biology with their parents and grandparents, and discussed their concerns about genetic engineering.

Figure 6: DNA extraction in action!

By working with every age class of the society, we wanted to positively influence the image of synthetic biology and to achieve a higher public acceptance. If you want to get some more impressions of what we have done in our projects, check out the gallery at the bottom of the page.

iGEM meets Marburg

One of our biggest events was the MeetUp iGEM meets Marburg to which we invited all German iGEM teams to Marburg for a weekend in August. When the representatives of each team had arrived, we walked through the ‘Oberstadt’, Marburg’s city center. There, we had dinner in one of the 126 bars. The next day, every of the 9 participating teams had the opportunity to present their project ideas, exchange their experiences with arisen problems and think about new perspectives. In the afternoon, we organized a boat race at the Lahn followed by a barbecue. Through this event, several collaborations came into being.

Figure 7: We had lots of fun at the MeetUp with the other German iGEM teams.


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