KULeuven iGEM 2011


WORKSHOP: DNA and synthetic biology for kids

The team has organized a workshop for children aged 9-11 years old on the 17th of August in Oud-Heverlee. The children learned how to extract DNA from tomatoes. This was followed by an explanation of synthetic biology and the E.D. Frosti project in a playful way. Afterwards the children made drawings on the possible applictions of E.D. Frosti and what they would like to create with synthetic biology.

Also, on the 30th of September, Alice and Tom were interviewed by the national radio in Belgium (in Dutch) and E.D. Frosti appeared twice in the national Belgian news (in Dutch) and because of this we were contacted by two highschools. Find out more about this, at the bottom of this page!


The workshop was filmed by ROB TV and this report was recently broadcasted on their network .

Click the above photo for a slideshow.

2. Protocol to isolate DNA from a tomato

What do we need?
  • Tomato
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Detergent
  • Ethanol (or whiskey/vodka)
  • 3 bowls
  • Knife (plastic for the kids)
  • A whisk
  • Microliter pipet and pipet tips
  • Eppendorf tubes
  • Filters (coffee filters)
  • Funnel

How to isolate DNA?

  • Cut a tomato into pieces and put it into a bowl.
  • Make a solution of ... (in another bowl)
    • 5 ml Detergent
    • 1 teaspoon of salt
    • 45 ml water
  • Add the solution to the pieces of tomato.
  • Use the whisk to mix the solution with the pieces of tomato.
  • Put the filter in the funnel and pour the tomato - solution mix in the funnel. The filtrate contains DNA.
  • To make the DNA visible:
    • Pipet 0,5 ml of the filtrate in an Eppendorf tube
    • Add 1 ml of Ethanol
    • Close the Eppendorf tube
    • Turn the Eppendorf tube with a gentle movement up and down.
  • The red color pellet (looks like snot) is DNA.

3. E.D. Frosti: what would you do with it?

A bird that is capable of inducing the summer by singing.

A dog that blows snow.

Fairytale: Frostiland
Once upon a time there were two brothers who lived happily together in the kingdom Frostiland. The youngest one was engaged with the coveted princess. Unfortunately there was a little envy from his older brother but it was an unspoken rule not to talk about that. The three lived in peace and harmony when suddenly the youngest brother was called to save the arctic. With his frosting capability’s he could freeze the water and help those pour polar bears. The youngest did what he was asked to do and left his fiancée with his older brother.
Alas! The older brother was up to no good and when he was sure the youngest was far, far away, he abducted the princess and locked her up in an ice castle made by him. Since he was the eldest he had already practiced a lot on his freezing capabilities and when he developed those well, he figured out he was also capable of defrosting ice.
Weeks went by and finally the younger brother came back to Frostiland. Soon he heard about his fiancée trapped in the castle. Unfortunately he didn’t know how to defrost the ice. He kept asking people for help but nobody knew how to defrost ice. Until he met some homeless men who had heard about a special team who was working on bacteria which could freeze and defrost ice depending on the given stimulus. He started searching for this mysterious K.U.Leuven iGEM team. Nobody knew for sure how to find their headquarters but desperate as he was he had to try something.
Tide had turned and finally luck was on his side; he found the team and they promised to do everything they could to help him. First they explained him how the freezing mechanism worked because he could only begin his quest if he fully understood his own body and the mechanisms behind the freezing.
Ice nucleation is possible due to the Ice Nucleation Proteins (INPs). To make proteins, there is a gene which makes the necessary mRNA responsible for the forming of proteins. The INPs make the ice more stable during winter. When it’s expressed it has a bright color. Another protein found in nature, is Anti Freeze Protein (AFP), responsible for defrosting ice. Both these proteins are produced by our modified E.coli bacteria, E.D.Frosti. (We have built the two genes in an E.coli.)Those bacteria contain a cell death signal to prevent overgrowing of the whole environment. This way when the proteins are produced, the cells will die but the proteins will still work. The youngest brother paid attention very well to make sure he understood it completely. After the explanation, he thought he knew what he had to do and started his quest. To develop his defrosting capabilities, he had to take up bacteria which had a gene to form Anti Freeze Proteins (AFPs). When he was younger he had already taken up some bacteria which could make the INPs, and he knew how to control them. But the K.U.Leuven iGEM team told him that similar, but modified bacteria could make both INPs and AFPs depending on the given stimulus. The iGEM team gave him the bacteria they made, but now he still had to figure out how to control them. He had to figure out which stimulus he had to give to the bacteria to develop his defrosting capabilities. He kept training and practicing for weeks. Finally he had the freezing and defrosting under control and he went to the castle where his fiancée was locked up. His brother didn’t suspect the little one of the family would figure out how to handle these powers so there was no guard. The youngest brother stood in front of the castle, concentrated very hard and thawed the ice. The water flowed away and suddenly he could see his princess. They decided not to take revenge but got married and lived happily ever after.
Story created by Katrien, Tao and Alice
Written by Katrien

4. Synthetic biology: what would you create?

A big fat elephant with all the colors of the rainbow.

Technopolis, an edutaining institute in Belgium, heard of our workshop and invited us to give serveral workshops after the jamboree.

5. Personal experience of 'our teachers'

I was surprised that the children knew a lot about DNA. Due to TV shows like CSI, NCIS,… they already knew that with DNA you can identify people. They were pretty excited about science and we had a lot of fun. Doing the experiment was the thing they enjoyed the most and when we asked them to draw what they would create… wauw! It is clear that they even have more fantasy than us. Most of the things they wanted to create were funny, but there were also a few kids who wanted to create something practical e.g. an organism that does their homework and cleans up their room.

This workshop wasn’t only to educate the children. It was also about educating us on how to communicate: explaining science in an understandable way for people without a background in science is not the easiest thing to do, though it is really important. This was one of our biggest challenges for this workshop, but given the way the children and their mentors responded, we did a good job!

At first when I walked towards my group, I was kind of scared because I assumed that the children wouldn't be so interested in the basics of synthetic biology or even in science. But when we sat around the table, I was amazed: they knew that 'big smurf, professor Zonnebloem, Barabas and Gobelijn' all were scientists. Then even one child took the DNA helix I brought with me from the table and said 'Wow, this is a DNA helix', I didn't know that when I was 9, so I immediately was impressed and happy. They were very attentive and eagerly wanted to put on a lab coat themselves and start with the extraction of tomato DNA.

I was very pleased with the interest and creativity of these children and really enjoyed giving this workshop. I would immediately do it again! Afterwards, even one of the mentors asked me at which institutes he could study biochemistry, since he found it amazing. Therefore, I think it's a pity that ROB TV only showed children that didn't want to become scientists, since we had a lot of 'positive' feedback from the children.

While organizing this event, somewhere inside me there was that little fear of being unable to get the children’s attention. For them, it was an interruption of their summer holiday and I was hoping they wouldn’t feel like they were at school. Luckily the children were very enthusiastic right from the start. When we began the workshop, they all wanted to help and become little scientists. We chose two children as assistants to read the protocol and give the materials when needed and they were all very helpful. While executing the protocol for extracting DNA from a tomato, the children were really exited about the whole project and were very surprised to see the DNA in the Eppendorf tubes. After explaining our E.D.Frosti project, we let them use their imagination and soon after, we got a lot of drawings about what they would do with our project and with synthetic biology in general. I’m very grateful to them for being such wonderful participants at our children’s workshop.

Highschool education

Since the wiki will freeze on the 28th of October, we will probably not be able to update the final results of these highschool projects, since most of them are spread over one or two semesters.

The first highschool that contacted us was the Sint-Rita college in Kontich.Their economy students needed to create a fictional company that could be successful. The students thought that E.D. Frosti was a niche and they wanted to do some marketing research and analysis. For this they needed more information about our project (overall feasibility, is large-scale production feasible, ethics, laws,...). They also wanted to know which companies were interested (or could be interested) in E.D. Frosti. We will be guiding them throughout their project and wish them the best of luck!

Secondly we received an e-mail from Prof. dr. Samir Kumar-Singh of the faculty of Medicine of the University of Antwerp, which started as follows:

Which made us feel very honored! He teaches the course "Capita selecta molecular and cellular biotechnology" to master students in Biochemistry and Biotechnology and normally they invite foreign professors to talk about hot topics in biochemistry. After hearing about E.D. Frosti he wanted to make an exception and invite two students from our iGEM team, to give a lecture about our project. This will probably be organised somewhere in December. For us, as students, it is a great honor to give a lecture at another university.

Last but not least, we were contacted by a science class from Sint-Lievens college in Ghent. They wanted to discuss our project in their courses and set up a scientific blog, for not-scientic people in which they discuss interesting topics in science. For this they needed a lot of information, varying from 'what are biobricks' and 'how can you construct and implement such a system in a bacterium' to 'what are AFP and INP and what do they do' and 'possible applications and worst-case scenarios (they loved our apocalyptic safety page!). At they are processing all our answers together with their teachers and we wish them the best of luck with their 'scientific blog for non-scientific people', which is actually very cool and educational!