Using electronic circuits to represent synthetic biology at the Youth STEMM Award mid-year conference

OpenPlant exhibited on gene circuits and synthetic biology at their stand at the exciting mid-year conference for the Youth STEMM Award. Around 200 pupils, aged 14­16, from schools around Norfolk attended the event at the John Innes Centre which included exhibits showcasing the science on site as well as a keynote talk from celebrity ethnobiologist James Wong. Read more about the Youth STEMM Award here.

The OpenPlant exhibit, run by Nadia Radzman, Don Nguyen and Colette Matthewman, explained gene circuits by comparing them to representative electronic circuits. Example gene circuits were explained to visitors, who then interacted with the electronic circuits and paired them with the gene circuit they represented. This use of electronics represented the concept of synthetic biology as an engineering discipline and opened up conversations around standard parts, components and modularisation ­- key principles of engineering. Pupils could also learn how scientists at the John Innes Centre get these gene circuits into Tobacco plants and had a go at infiltrating tobacco leaves (with water containing colouring). Plenty of information about case studies for the use of gene circuits in plants were given to complete the picture of what synthetic biology can achieve.

We were very impressed by how well the pupils interacted with the activities. The circuits caught the attention of those with a physics or engineering interest as well as those who were more focused on biology.