Team:HKUST/Human Practice



Human practice

1. Overview
2. Synthetic Biology Workshop
3. Lab Open Day
4. Sharing and Memories

1. Overview    TOP

The last ten years have witnessed rapid development in synthetic biology – the new and fascinating subject in biological science. Its great development brings about profound changes to our lives. However, as we may realize, synthetic biology also raises social concerns regarding safety, security, ethical problems and so on. As undergraduate students participating in the iGEM competition, we should not only learn and enjoy from our research experience but also try to promote synthetic biology to the general public so that more people will have a better awareness of this new trend.

We here outline and detail a Human Practice approach: organizing synthetic biology workshop and lab opening session to promote understanding and foster discussion on topics such as safety, security, ethics, ownership, sharing, and innovation.

Below are our objectives for the Human Practice project:

  1. Promote synthetic biology to the general public and try to help them increase awareness of the impacts brought by biotechnological developments.
  2. Show the fascination of synthetic biology to high school students by giving them a chance of hand-on experience. We hope to encourage students' innovation and arouse their interests in synthetic biology.
  3. Help people to develop comprehensive understanding about synthetic biology, both its strength and controversial issues. Offer them an opportunity to think and discuss about these issues.
  4. Discuss and share new and creative ideas with others.

In order to achieve these goals, we initiated the following two activities:

  1. We organized a Summer Synthetic Biology Workshop for local high school students. This one-week activity included lectures, discussion, hand-on practices and sharing sessions.
  2. During our lab open day, we invited local high school students to visit our lab and gave them presentations introducing this year's iGEM HKUST project. We also shared and discussed with the students about our wonderful experience joining the iGEM.

2.Synthetic Biology Workshop     TOP

To promote better understanding of synthetic biology to the general public and arouse students' interest to integrate a broad variety of science discipline in their science study, we have organized a summer Synthetic Biology Workshop in July 19-23, 2010 at our university.

This Synthetic Biology Workshop was coordinated by our instructors, Mr. Sun Wong and Dr. King L. Chow, while we all participate as tutors throughout the week. The workshop aims to bring 25 local high school students from F.4 to F.6 (equivalent to grade 9-12) to look into the future of biological research using synthetic biology as a platform. These students recommended by their science teachers all came with bright eyes and enthusiastically engaged in the five-day activities. Even though we had two days risking a direct hit by the Typhoon Chanthu, red signal of heavy rain, the determination of the students and tutors was un-deterred. People stayed on and finished a productive learning journey for the tutors and the tutees.

In this five days’ workshop, we focus on the exploration of science and engineering and their integration. We have organized daily lectures covering various aspects of synthetic biology, from the introduction of different applications of synthetic biology, concepts of BioBricks, basic molecular biology techniques for plasmid construction, PCR amplification of DNA for the subsequent manipulation, discussion about device and system design, and mathematical modeling using software, etc. Participants have done some direct quantification in a gene expression study. All these topics were accompanied by hand on experimental work dispersed into the daily schedule running from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

There are also two sessions that are worth highlighting.

We have group projects led by students themselves. They started their own "iGEM project by design" and came up with a presentation at the end of a day and a half. We were all surprised to see how quickly our high school students picked up the ideas and gave a number of interesting design proposals within these two days. Their presentations were filled with enthusiasm and proposed topics spanned from using algae to make biofuel, to using bacteria for targeting cancer cells for treatment. We also had a project using fecal bacteria to absorb carbon dioxide to improve the green house effect – it would be a good idea if we can all tolerate the smelly discharges.

The second highlight was a discussion on social ethical impact of biotechnology and synthetic biology. We held this discussion in order to better understand how young people thought about social issues brought by synthetic biology. Students talked passionately about those social concerns in the discussion. They exchanged their ideas and commented on other's opinions. We were glad to know about their rational thoughts on the ethical issues of synthetic biology. We were very surprised that students were in fact more receptive to these new ideas and the applications of synthetic biology. In general, as long as the new development is helping the advancement of our ability to cope with medical problems, environmental issues or energy crisis, students were very supportive to have them further developed.

Exciting time flies, and the workshop that was prepared for a few months ended with a sharing sessions filled with drinks, chips, clicks of the camera and of course good memory of the participants about our enthusiastic group of iGEM team members. Who knows, they may be our future iGEM team member next year!

3. Lab Open Day    TOP

In order to let more young people have better understanding of synthetic biology and modern biological research, we opened our iGEM research lab to general public on Sep 18th, 2010. That day is also the annual Outreach Day of HKUST, on which more than one thousand high school students and their parents and teachers visited our university campus. Over 200 high school students participated in our lab tour and HKUST iGEMers presented our this year's project ideas. We also shared and discussed with the students about our wonderful experience joining this year's iGEM.

Visitors agreed that the lab tour was an enjoyable and memorable experience. During the lab tour, we introduced them several basic techniques for synthetic biology experiments, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), agarose gel electrophoresis and endonuclease digestion. We also showed them photos taken during our daily experiments in order to give them a general picture of what synthetic biology research is like. The visitors, mainly local high school students, had hand-on experience on observing bacterial and yeast cells under microscopes. They were attracted by the rapid technological developments in modern biological research.

After the lab tour, we gave our visitors short presentations, introducing our iGEM project idea this year. Though the detailed rationales were not easy,they were able to appreciate the idea of our iGEM project. They told us that they were very surprised and encouraged to see how health and medical problems could be better addressed by improved biological technologies. Many interesting questions and valuable suggestions were raised by the enthusiastic crowds after listening to our presentations. The high school students were very open-minded to our project idea and its potential applications. Many participants also shared with us their crazy and creative projects ideas, which also provided our iGEM members many insightful thoughts.

During the lab open day, we promoted synthetic biology among young people and showed them how our life could be better improved by synthetic biology studies. The message we successful passed to them is that synthetic biology requires originality and creativity and most importantly, it's full of challenges and joy.

4.Sharing and Memories    TOP

Sharings about Synthetic Biology Workshop


The experience of serving as a student helper during HKUST Synthetic Biology Workshop really benefited me a lot. I appreciated the process of learning together with all those participators. From the discussion with those students, I was able to see something which I had never thought before. When talking about the application of synthetic biology, the ideas they came up with were quite inspirational and really constructive. Through working within a group, the strong sense of team work among these participators showed by their excellent performance also let me learn a lot. Besides, the workshop also offered me a chance to know more about synthetic biology.


The workshop is fantastic! I get to know a bunch of students who are crazy about biology. Though it is the first time they hear about synthetic biology, these high school students have shown their talents and affection to this field of science. Their inspiring ideas have left me deep impressions, which make me believe that they probably will be the new members of iGEM, exploring more about synthetic biology. In addition, by introducing and elaborating iGEM 2010 HKUST project, I have a more comprehensive understanding of what I am doing.


I think the workshop we organized in July for those high school students is a great memory and a valuable experience for us all. For one thing, we are really pleased to help those students to learn more about synthetic biology. Their enthusiasm and interest in biological research encourage us a lot. And their improvement makes us feel proud. For another, we are inspired by their creative thinking and effective teamwork. And we ourselves also have a deeper understanding about synthetic biology through this workshop.


The most impressive part of this workshop is the enthusiasm of participants. They are all students who are interested in biology from high schools of Hong Kong. So, some of them have even learnt a little bit about genetics and experiments about that. As a helper (I was in charge of helping 3 boys), what I did is simply having an eye on them and drawing them back when they had done something quite wrong. I didn't even demonstrate any experiments for them and I never gave them a hand while making decisions. But to my surprise, they have done quite well. They can use pipetman without any difficulties after listening to the introduction; they can always keep things near fire under the circumstance that I didn't tell them about this. Most importantly, they are quite eager to do things themselves but will consult us first. That is really a good performance. I enjoyed this workshop so much~


This synthetic biology workshop is an inspiring one. Participants learned amazing things about genetic engineering. How amazing? Just imaging you can change some characteristic of a creature. In this workshop, high school students were taught basic knowledge and skills about synthetic biology. And since it was their first time to step in this field, many of them were curious about how can we actually change the DNA within bacteria. By the end of the workshop, they learned to cut a plasmid with restriction enzyme, to paste two fragment of DNA with ligase and to amplify a specific DNA sequence with PCR technique.

To work as a helper, I also learned to appreciate the beauty of life through the introduction section of the workshop. This was the first time I knew that so many scientists are devoted to synthetic biology and they are actually creating miracles. Recently, a breakthrough was made by Craig Venter. And I am sure that we will see more in the near future.

Sharings about Lab Open Day

From Jack, Rory and Wendy:

Presenting our iGEM idea to over 200 high school students is a challenging but fantastic experience. The most memorable snapshot that day was being asked questions that we had never thought carefully about. A young girl asked us how we were going to present our final product to the general public if we successfully complete our original project design; is it possible to apply our idea to treat gastroenterology patients, and can we put our idea into actual manufacturing so that it could be sold as health products like Yakult probiotic milk? These questions made me suddenly realize that iGEM competition is much more than isolated project ideas and day-after-day lab works; its potential applications are encouraging and can even change the whole world. Science is not only science, but serves the purpose to better appreciate our lives and to serve our societies. This unforgettable one-day activity provided us with a precious opportunity to enrich and educate ourselves. The iGEM Lab Open Day offered us a chance to promote synthetic biology to the new generations, and it also enabled ourselves to gain new perspectives of synthetic biology through sharing and discussion with our peers.


Frist lecture

Dr. Chow was giving introductory lecture to high school students on the first day of the workshop.

Brain Stroming

Workshop attendants discussed the experiment design.


Presenters showed their experiment design during the presentation.

Sun's speech

Sun was giving a speech before the fare well party.

Fare well party

Workshop attendants freely discussed with each other after the lecture.

Fare well party

A group photo sealed our memories in a time capsule.