The students and staff at Ted Harrison School have developed a new program based on the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. iGEM is an annual synthetic biology competition that integrates science with other disciplines and involves teams from around the world. This program gives students the opportunity to build a “biological machine” while interacting with the community to determine the social and ethical implications of their ideas.

The iGEM competition is an amazing opportunity for students to engage in scientific exploration and present their progress at an international scientific conference. Through this program students will develop their practical understanding of the scientific method, as well as developing skills in communication, project management and leadership. The program requires students to not only understand how genetics and engineering work, but also how to apply this knowledge in a socially beneficial and responsible manner.

TH8With the support of a grant from EducationMatters, the school assembled a team of students who worked together on a project for an entire school year. Though unable to present their project at the iGEM conference in Boston, the students were able to travel to the University of California – Berkley to present their project after it was completed.

The team focused their project on helping fight against skin cancer. The students wanted to explore the hypothesis that the bacteria that exists naturally in our skin could be engineered to express the Sirius protein, and protect us from harmful UV rays.

The students tested their hypothesis on plastic beads and recorded the changes that had taken place. From the information that the students collected from the research they concluded that their idea could work, that the bacteria could work as a natural sunscreen. The students had access to specialists to help guide and answer questions they had as they tested and refined their project.

The program allowed students to see how different disciplines could work together to find the most effective solution. It gave them the freedom to explore and inquire about ideas that they can take with them throughout their life. It has also allowed Ted Harrison School to offer new classes such as DNA forensics. The program allowed the students to take their thinking from “is it possible to” to “how do I make this a reality.” They are creating technology that allows them to address global issues and allows them to connect with the global community. This program is driven by student inquiry and challenges them to  analyze problems with a different lens; creating new solutions that may have been overlooked without this learning opportunity.