Team:WITS-CSIR SA/Outreach/SciBono


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SciBono Experience

The Wits CSIR iGEM team feels it is not only important what is done in the lab but, moreover, to share our knowledge of science and synthetic biology with the broader public. One issue most often associated with synthetic biology is the ethics surrounding the production of genetically modified organisms. Another issue, prevalent is South Africa, is the significant lack of scientists and engineers. The team set out to address both these issues by approaching SciBono, a national science centre whose goal it is to act as an interface between scientists and the public. By focusing on underprivileged students, we feel we approached the human advances aspect of iGEM in a novel away, opening these children's eyes to the potential uses of synthetic biology in their own communities.


The team participated in National Science Week (an initiative of the South African Department of Science and Technology) by addressing both primary and high school children educating them on the importance of science, with a particular focus on synthetic biology. Ezio and Sasha presented to the junior school children, sharing with them some interesting facts about science and making them aware of the presence of bacteria. Emphasis was placed on the fact that bacteria are not only disease causing agents but also act as the flora in the intestines, helping to digest food and prevent invasion by pathogens. Ezio and Sasha held a fun interactive ‘Q and A’ session where the children were encouraged to develop research questions. Some of the children stood up and asked their questions and the whole group discussed possible ways of solving the problems. The children were so enthusiastic and came up with some interesting ways of researching their problems. The children were also then exposed to the concept of synthetic biology and some of the exciting applications of this technology.

SciBono Presentation

The high school children, from resource poor environments, were exposed to a workshop where there was an informative presentation about synthetic biology with a particular focus on the iGEM competition. Following this, there was an activity in which the children were asked to create ‘super hero’ bacteria to solve problems they face in their own communities. They constructed plasmids with start and stop sites and genes in between which gave the bacteria super hero qualities. Some of the ideas were incredible and showed an understanding of the potential of this technology, particularly in their own communities.

SciBono Workshop

The team advisor, Laura Millroy organised on behalf of the team, an information stand at SciBono where the team handed out synthetic biology information packs. The synthetic biology information packs were kindly put together by Michelle Robinson (team advisor) and Laura and contained flyers from the different faculties at Wits University, CSIR Synthetic Biology research groups and the iGEM team. In addition to raising awareness of science as a career, the team highlighted the importance of mathematics and science high school subjects. As a relatively new field, initially synthetic biology appeared disconnected from the other general scientific fields of study. Overall, the team tried to bridge the gap between the scientific fields such as biotechnology and synthetic biology thus inspiring young learners to choose science as a career.

Both the junior school presentations and the high school workshops were successful. The aim to create an interest in the field of synthetic biology and, particularly, to show how it could be beneficial in resource-poor settings was achieved. The children left the workshops knowing 'super hero' bacteria can be used to fix problems faced by their communities. This novel approach to outreach exposed the field of synthetic biology to children from resource poor environments, enabling them to welcome the use of this science in their communities and, we hope, to encourage them to pursue a career in science.

In South Africa, few young adults take science subjects at a tertiary level. We hope that our talk has inspired a few more to consider this path. We thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the project and we intend to continue to contribute to our surrounding communities in this way.