Team:Penn/Educational Toolbox

University of Pennsylvania iGEM

PENN iGEM 2015



The advent of the relatively young field of synthetic biology has brought many incredible achievements but also a great deal of skepticism regarding the ethicality to the field (Gutman, 2011). The ability to create synthetic life is an uncomfortable concept to many, and the result of a 2011 Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues requested by Obama has declared a state of “prudent vigilance” of advancements in synthetic biology (Gutmann, 2011). Given the current sentiment, we believe that educational modules in synthetic biology will galvanize interest in the promise of the field.


TThe Penn 2015 iGEM team has given several lectures to both high school students and undergraduate students on campus regarding the field of synthetic biology and how students could get involved through the iGEM competition. We showcased neat applications from previous competitions that highlight the capabilities of student researchers and created excitement about the potential of the field.

As iGEM members, we understand the power of learning by doing. We are contributing to a hands-on educational module that can be feasibly deployed at secondary schools, museums, and universities. Students can mathematically model the behavior of the engineered strains and quantify the relative differences in protein expression as a result of changing one or more of a combination of parameters.

We are designing and characterizing three genetic inverters, lacI, lambda, and tetR, that could be feasibly added to the toolbox. The genetic inverter adds another degree of control to the system as a fifth parameter that changes the bacteria’s response to the concentration of the AHL signaling molecule. The genetic inverter component completely inverts the signal such the “on” and “off” states of the system are switched (Andrianantoandro et al, 2006). We hope that the addition of the inverter switch component to the educational toolbox will give students a new perspective on the amount of control that engineering can impose on a biological system, and further extend the analogy between an electrical and biological circuit.