geekStarter Community Highlights – May 2017


Lethbridge High-School iGEM

The Lethbridge HS iGEM team has been picking up the pace lately, and has lots to report!
After exploring a few project ideas, the team settled on making biological pigments in E coli bacteria, with the goal of producing large quantities of biologically friendly ink for the printing industry. With help from their team mentors, the students designed genetic constructs for four different colours of Synthetink, and are getting ready to start cloning soon.

Lethbridge HS team members learning wetlab basics

Lethbridge HS team members learning wetlab basics

Excited for the opportunity to document their project and publish it, the team wrote an article for BioTreks 2017, which is getting into very good shape as they continue to edit it and incorporate feedback from judges and other teams from the BioTreks online community. On April 29, the students participated in the BioTreks online conference, where they learned about other teams’ projects and received feedback from judges in real time.
Lethbridge HS students teach their guest lab protocols at parent & teacher night

Parent & Teacher Lab Night: Lethbridge HS students teach their guests lab protocols

On May 4, the team hosted a parent and teacher lab night – their first ever. At the event, the students familiarized parents and teachers with their synthetic ink project and the benefits of participating in the iGEM competition. They also guided their guests through hands-on experiments such as DNA extractions from strawberries and gel electrophoresis with crayola markers, to give them a sense for wetlab protocols in a fun way. The lab night was well received by parents and teachers and will likely become an annual event that will increase public engagement and awareness about the benefits of the program. Awesome work, Lethbridge HS!

Notre Dame Collegiate Syn Bio team from High River
While still looking to develop an ovulation-detection system for natural family planning, the team has shifted gears regarding the hormone they’ll use. Additional research and their mentors’ advice helped them realize that using Luteinizing Hormone (LH) would bring up a level of complexity too high for a team that is still inexperienced and works out of a DIY high-school lab.
As a result, they decided to use Estrogen instead of LH, since this hormone peaks at ovulation too, and the genetic circuit needed for detecting it is more straightforward; the DNA parts are more accessible and better characterized. To this end and guided by their mentor Isaac Ward, the team learned how to use the online platform Benchling as they designed a genetic circuit containing the code for the Estrogen receptor along 2 other parts that will express colours when Estrogen is bound. We wish them good luck and look forward to learning more about these recent developments at the Jamboree in June!

Notre-Dame Collegiate team members learn lab skills from experienced mentor Emily Hicks

Notre Dame Collegiate team members learn lab skills from experienced mentor Emily Hicks


OLS Syn Bio team from Canmore
Although the general direction for their project was already picked – it’s tackling plastic pollution via bioremediation – the team continues to expand their understanding of the problem and ideas for how they want to address it.
In a recent very informative meeting with a manager from LaFarge Exshaw Cement Plant, the team learned about the plant’s burning of landfill plastic instead of using coal as energy source. They also learned of how the plant wants to use cement to trap the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide through a process called CO2 concrete curing.
As the team gathers more information from various facilities that employ plastics, including one in Saskatoon, two common themes and needs seem to emerge: improving the process of sorting plastics, and sequestration of CO2. Now the team hopes their project will evolve to address at least one of these concerns, and look forward to input gained at Berkeley Program finale at end of May to move forward with that plan.
In an effort to boost support for their project, and showing exemplary resourcefulness yet again, the team entered The Samsung Canada Solve for Tomorrow Challenge. Way to go, OLS!

OLS team members with dedicated team mentor Lisa Oberding and advisor Jessica Puurunen in their school lab


Syn Bio team from Ted Harrison School in Calgary
This team consists, in fact, of two teams, with the more experienced team mentoring the younger one.
In parallel with learning the tools of synthetic biology, the younger team is exploring project ideas around sugar-free diets. For now, they are focusing on a protein from miracle berries called miraculin as substitute for regular sugar. More recently, they chose sugar-free lemonade as their working model of the sugar-free diet, and surveyed potential users on how they’d prefer to drink it. They gave two choices: a two-layered liquid with the miraculin at top and the lemonade at bottom, or an edible miraculin strip (like a Listerine strip) that would be put on the tongue before drinking the lemonade. Based on the feedback obtained from those surveyed – students and parents who came at their school’s Celebration of Learning – the team decided to go with the strip, and is now working on prototyping this product.

Team members from Ted Harrison school learn lab skills from experienced mentor David Lloyd

Team members from Ted Harrison school learn lab skills from experienced mentor David Lloyd

The more experienced team at Ted Harrison School is working on a BRITA-inspired filtration system that would eliminate pesticides from drinking water. They plan to equip the filter with engineered bacteria enabled to not only capture the pesticides but also break them down, so water would not be left with any traces of toxins. The new DNA program the team wants to introduce in bacteria will use three components: INP (Ice Nucleating Protein), OPDA (Organophosphate Degrading Agent), and SBP (Silica Binding Protein). The program will ensure that no live bacteria escape the filter. While they are getting ready to run their proof of concept experiments, students are continuing their research and reaching out to experts and possible target users to figure out in what ways and/or in which areas will their filter be most useful and relevant. We wish them success with the experiments, and look forward to their presentation at the Jamboree in June!


Ross Sheppard High-School team from Edmonton
As their end-of-year school festivities are drawing near, the team has started to document their project work in the form of videos shared on YouTube. They sound particularly excited about two projects currently underway. Check out their series on the Raspberry Pi Arcade which can run old-school video games such as Nintendo.
Another video series they’ve started covers the FPV Drone Project for filming their school festivities from above. A camera attached to the drone feeds into a headset that is worn by the pilot, which means the pilot can see what the drone “sees”. If you haven’t already, guess what FPV stands for? It’s First Person View, of course! This seems to be a lot of fun! Good luck and looking forward to seeing the drone’s film of the Sheptacular – Ross Shep’s summer extravaganza.

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