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Methods in enzymology

BioBuilding using banana-scented bacteria to teach synthetic biology.


PMID 21601091

Abstract

Student interest in synthetic biology is detectable and growing. Each year teenagers from around the world participate in iGEM, a summer long synthetic biology competition. As part of their iGEM experience, undergraduates design and construct novel living systems using standardized biological parts. One engineering feat was accomplished by the 2006 MIT iGEM team, who modified the normally putrid smell of bacteria so that the cells generated pleasant scents, such as wintergreen and banana. We have taken advantage of their project as well as other iGEM successes to develop a teaching curriculum for high schools and colleges. The curriculum includes four hands-on activities and two classroom assignments. We envision these activities either complementing existing instruction, for example in an advanced placement biology lab, or replacing some outdated, cookbook lab classes that are often used as gateways to undergraduate research opportunities. The activities we have developed also introduce engineering and technology concepts that are often overlooked in the already over-stuffed high school and college curricula. To ease their adoption, the activities include teacher materials, such as annotated instructions, grading rubrics, and animated resources. Here, we detail the student and teacher materials for performing the banana-scented bacteria lab, called "Eau that Smell." Other free teaching materials similar to the content here can be accessed through BioBuilder.org.