Team:TU Munich/human/highschools


Gymnasium Puchheim

We spent two days at Gymnasium Puchheim, a high school near Munich.

On the first day we visited a biology course at senior level. In the beginning we introduced ourselves, iGEM and our project. We explained our plasmid design and workflow with the help of the comic. The students were enthusiastic about the comic and even tried hard to understand the details. They already had a good background knowledge of most of the basic principles in molecular biology like digestion with restriction enzymes, ligation and gel electrophoresis. Because they only knew the principles in theory the students could not await to perform them live with their own hands.


In the second part we arranged four stations where the students could do some smaller experiments. We wanted to introduce them to our everyday work in the lab. At one station the students tried out gel electrophoresis, completing their theoretical knowledge. They prepared a polyacrylamide gel and watched a three-colored gel loading buffer run in the gel. At another station they learned pipetting with activated charcoal in water. Our mathematician explained the mathematic background of the bacterial growth to the students and showed them a program that calculated the cell number after a certain time. The students' favorite part was to isolate DNA from bananas and stain it with coomassie blue. The yield of big clots of DNA lead to incredulous and enthusiastic faces. "That is really DNA?" “Do we have so much DNA as well?”

The day was entertaining as well as informative - not only for the students or the teacher but also for us. We were taught what questions and misunderstandings can arise when confronted with our everyday work, but also how you can inspire people by taking the time to explain the background and even let them try labwork themselves. We think our little workshop let the students see that synthetic biology is no magic but real science that can be comprehended.

On our second day at Gymnasium Puchheim we discussed synthetic biology with an ethics senior class. As with the biology class we introduced ourselves, iGEM and our project. The students and the teacher were highly impressed by the prospects of synthetic biology. We showed them a tube of GFP and explained its role as a genetic marker and as driving force of synthetic biology.


Afterwards we outlined some ethical problems related to genetic engineering. The students read several texts, abstracts from papers and newspaper articles about different topics. We picked bio-terrorism as a discussion topic because of the current EHEC (enterohemorrhagic E. coli) outbreak in Germany. As the source of the EHEC could not be determined at first it lead to speculations in newspapers that the outbreak was an act of bio-terrorism. We outlined the possibility of engineering hazardous bacteria or viruses.

They read an abstract about the regenerating of the Spanish influenza virus of 1918-1919 that killed about 50 million people [1]. Another abstract was about the redesign of bacteriophage T7 [2]. These abstracts showed that resurrecting and redesigning viruses is technically possible and has already been done, but also that these studies are conducted for a better understanding of hazardous organisms.

The students agreed that a better understanding is the best protection against bio-terrorism. We informed them as well about the biological weapon convention and the safety regulation for work with genetically engineered organisms in Germany.

Another example we discussed with the class is the so-called pharming, derived from farming and pharmaceutics where transgenic animals are engineered to produce therapeutic proteins. We read some newspaper articles and a short abstract that declared pharming as a cheap way to produce recombinant proteins.

The subject of pharming received antipathy from the students. They stated that they would prefer a more expensive production in cell cultures because the suffering of animals cannot be justified only by higher profits. On the other hand, they admitted that if it was the only working method, experiments with animals have to be accepted.

As a conclusion the students made a pro and contra list for synthetic biology on the whiteboard and we discussed the single items. Both sides had an illuminating time spent together. The students with no biological background were happy to learn about the topic of synthetic biology, that will be a major ethical matter in the 21st century.

They were grateful to have "experts" of the field to answer their questions. We benefited from their frank evaluation of the topic, they opened up some completely new concerns to us. However they ensured us, that synthetic biology is a powerful tool for research and has the prospects of being very useful for mankind.


1. Tumpey T., Basler,C., Aguilar P., (2005) Characterization of the Reconstructed 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic Virus, Science Vol. 310 no. 5745

2. Chan L., Kosuri S., Endy D., (2005) Refactoring bacteriophage, Mol Syst Biol. 2005; 1


When talking about synthetic biology, many people fear possible risks posed by innovative methods of biotechnology nowadays. While of course, biotechnology and its applications have to be treated with caution, many of the fears are based upon lack of knowledge, as well as wrong ideas of this part of science.

For our participation in iGEM 2011, we discussed various ways of how to get in contact with people, who are not familiar with the actual scientific background of the lurid headlines that often flicker over the television screen. As it was not long ago, when we left school ourselves, we decided to approach schools of higher education and ask them, if they were interested in a cooperative project, which we would plan and conduct with the students. The Josef-Hofmiller-Gymnasium in Freising was immediately thrilled by the idea and together with Ms. Grießl, a local and enthusiastic teacher of biology, the iGEM project days were created.


During the two days with the motivated students of the eleventh grade, a program combined of lecture, video presentation, discussions, biology at hand and experiments was brought into life.

The first day started with a repetition of the theoretical background on important principles and mechanisms of biology, which comprised the construction of cells, the structure and function of DNA and the mechanism of protein biosynthesis. This year’s project of the TU München for iGEM 2011 was introduced and explained, while the students were able to discuss critical points about the project’s chances and risks. Afterwards the upcoming experiments were elaborated and subsequently performed by the students. They were able to experience the handling of important devices in the lab, like a pipette, extracting and coloring DNA from bananas and spill, loading and running an agarose gel. Meanwhile, the students were animated to reflect the involved principles and solve occurring problems. They also had the opportunity to ask about the possibilities of the studies in biochemistry at the TU München or elsewhere in Germany.


On the second day, the students discussed different controversial topics in synthetic biology and summarized the pros and cons on posters. The discussed topics were genetic manipulation of food, production of medicines in bovine milk, luminescent trees and a virus construction kit. The last two topics were actual projects of last year’s competition in order to be able to discuss the responsibilities of young scientists in context of iGEM. Afterwards, the results were presented in class. Biotechnology has many interesting topics, but it is difficult to show actual examples “to see”. Therefore, the students were shown culture plates inoculated with Aliivibrio fischeri, a famous representative of luminescent bacteria. Next, a video about the mechanisms involved from the binding of a chemokine to an immune cell until its activation was shown and discussed. It was perfect to show some of the theoretical background before at work. After a final talk and discussion round, the project ended and we hope that we were able to enlighten and inspire the students for the fascinating field of synthetic biology.

Domberg Gymnasium

From the very beginning of our school project we had one clear goal in mind: We didn´t want to only give them a theoretical idea of how to work with synthetical biology, but also provide them with an opportunity to get some "hands on" experiences themselves.

We visited the Domberg Gymnasium, a highschool in Freising near Munich, as over 20 interested senior students had signed up for our one and a half hour project session.


We started with a little introduction and discussed with them a few basic questions: What exactly is synthetic biology? What can you do with it? What possibilites does this open for our future? What is iGEM trying to achieve? We quickly learned that although they had a great knowledge of theoretical basics, they hadn`t had a lot of contact with practical applications of this knowledge yet. This was what we intended to change.

As an example of how synthetic biology works, we presented them our project, the three-dimensional bacteria printer. In order to make the complex steps more imaginative and digestible, our great artist Marta had provided us with a comic strip that just nailed the point and was well received by the students.

After this quick introduction we proceeded to the core of our project session: Practical work. In teams of two the students were presented with the challenge of isolating DNA for their very first time... from a banana. They knew how a cell looked like. We told them the basics of working with that knowledge. They learned how to open the cell membrane using detergents (i.e. dish liquid), how to extract it from the cell with ethanol and to dye with with methylene blue. Finally, they crafted their own agarose gel and learned how to use gel electrophoresis to distinguish between DNA sizes. The amount of interest and engagement we met was astonishing, although we ended up extending way beyond our time frame.

We believe that projects like this are necessary so people understand exactly what we do in order to enable them to make up their own opinion about it. We also learned a lot from experiencing how people see us and our work. The positive resonance we received proved us that we had met our goal, although in such a short time we couldn`t cover everything we wanted. In conlusion this project was a both fun and productive experience, on which we plan to build and improve.... until next time!