MIT Synbio:ASA

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Synthetic Biology for Undergraduates at MIT

Will edit later. For now the DYI bio answers are in italics. And here are random buzz words:

Allow people to think about biology from a different perspective

Bring to light the potential but also the ethical issues in synbio. We plan an IAP class, outreach to the undergraduate population, connect people with faculty in syn bio and encourage other opportunities like igem

general undergrad pop, connections with faculty, space reservations for seminars, classes, panels, have a bigger impact and target a wider audience


Why are you, the founders, starting the group?

The founding members are very interested in synthetic biology as an academic discipline and growing area of research within the field of bioengineering. The purpose of SYNBUM is to communicate the potential, as well as ethical considerations of synthetic biology for the MIT community and beyond. Specifically, SYNBUM strives towards the following goals:

  • Education and Outreach

To generate interest and meaningful dialogue in the prospects of synthetic biology, its uses, and both scientific and ethical considerations; to further understanding of and exposure to the laboratory tools and process of synthetic biology; to connect with the MIT community and beyond to generate excitement for synthetic biology;

  • Networking

To provide opportunities for the undergraduate community to network with graduate students, professors, and industry leaders with similar interests in synthetic biology;

  • Research and Academic Opportunities

To provide the MIT undergraduate community unique opportunities in both coursework and research.

How is this group unique? Could the ASA find similarities with other groups? If so, why should this group obtain recognition? What are the differences?

This group is substantially different from other biology- and bioengineering-oriented groups at MIT in that we would focus solely on synthetic biology and explore its potentials and problems. While our focus may seem narrow, synthetic biology is a rapidly progressing, cutting-edge field with far-flung implications that have the potential to impact every aspect of our lives. Many of the field's leaders are professors at MIT, and there is a need for the existence of an organization to connect the MIT undergraduate population to these amazing resources. Other groups already exist that focus on particular issues within the life sciences, such as BE-BMES (Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering Society) and MUBA (MIT Undergraduate Biochemistry Association), but these are very department-associated. Our group spans several departments, including 6, 7, 18, and 20, and welcome undergraduates of all backgrounds to explore the opportunities we offer. Additionally our perspective also keeps in mind the greater Cambridge/Boston area for outreach to beyond the MIT community.

We are aware of the existence of the Synthetic Biology Society (SBS) and have had extensive meetings and discussions with the president and treasurer. Through these discussions we agreed that our clubs have have two very different directions. For example, we plan on implementing an IAP class that gives inexperienced undergraduates in all types of fields an introduction to Synthetic Biology. We will plan seminars and outreach events that are not planned by SBS. SBS is directed towards graduate students and professors, while SynBUM is directed towards undergraduates, and improving the perception of synthetic biology in the public eye. While the two groups look forward to working together in the future, we have mutually agreed that remaining as separate organizations is in the best interest of the populations we hope to serve.

The establishment of synBUM will provide extensive, unique opportunities of the MIT undergraduate population interested in synthetic biology that cannot be fulfilled by any other preexisting club. We are not department-specific, but especially encourage people of ALL backgrounds and majors to join us and explore synthetic biology, and are therefore capable of impacting a large portion of the campus.

Why does the group need ASA recognition? What resources do you expect to use?

First, we would like ASA recognition in order to legitimately use MIT as part of our name. Our primary focus is on involving MIT students; thus, SynBUM is the most appropriate name for our group, and we would like to legitimize our use of this name by obtaining ASA recognition.

Second, the ability to attend the ASA Activities Midways during Orientation and Campus Preview Weekend would be very helpful. In addition for recruiting purposes, we would also try to improve the perception of synthetic biology in the public eye. People in general fear the idea of synthetic biology simply because they misunderstand the concepts and motivation behind the research. We would like the opportunity to work to change that bias in a larger audience.

Third, we would appreciate being able to reserve rooms, acquire a small lab space, and apply for money from the Fresh Fund for supplies and instruments as a legitimate organization.

Finally, we would like to exist as an entity under MIT that would give us a legitimate platform on which to contact professors, industry leaders and other sponsors outside of MIT to help us in promoting the idea of synthetic biology. We plan on working with many organizations such as Synberc, SBWG,, the SEED program, the COPUS group, and iGEM, and being an official club at MIT as opposed to a loosely tied group of undergraduates would facilitate our communications with them.

How do you plan to fund the group?

Initially, we hope to receive money from the Fresh Fund for publicity and our first meeting. We would apply for the funding available to ASA groups for club events such as seminars, panels, networking lunches and our IAP class. Beyond that, we have already begun conversation with large corporations such as EMD Millipore, Qiagen, New England Biolabs and Geneious for outside funding, and we hope to achieve some kind of sponsorship to help sustain our club.

We already have a co-sponsorship commitment with Course 6 and we hope to get the same from Course 20 and 7. While this may not result in significant financial support, it is one of the first inter-departmental biology clubs that will help jumpstart the popularity of the recently proposed joint Course 6/7 major at MIT. We have been also talking about acquiring some supplies, either by donation or at a discounted rate, from professors at MIT and Harvard, or from biotech companies that have recently had to close their doors.

How do you expect your relationship with your sponsor to work?

For every funding round, we will apply for the supplies to finance large, synthetic biology-focused forums, panels and lunches that will be open to the MIT community. We hope to remain on good terms with the Course 6, 7, and 20 departments and perhaps eventually be under their jurisdiction for support. As far as outside sponsorship, we will ask mainly for supplies to support our IAP Intro to Synthetic Biology class and to help us reach out to the Boston community to help change the bias towards Synbio.

What type of events or meetings will the group have? Give specific examples.

We plan on holding public events advancing general awareness of Synbio. In particular, we plan on holding seminars and panels about synthetic biology and its ethics and prospects, both from invited speakers and club members. We will also promote undergraduate opportunities in synthetic biology, such as UROPs, our IAP class and the MIT iGEM team. We plan on connecting undergraduates with faculty, graduate students, and industry representatives with networking lunches and/or dinners. We plan on outreach events for the greater Boston area, specifically going to local high schools and introducing them to the possibilities in the expanding world of Synbio. We also hope to initiate bioethics conversations with the students in the hope that they understand the implications of Synbio research.

Finally, we are in the process of planning an IAP class for inexperienced undergraduates from ALL majors. It will be an introduction to wetlab synthetic biology for students who simply show enthusiasm and interest in Synbio. (We will, of course, adhere to all EHS and lab-specific rules and regulations.) Synthetic biology is an inter-departmental field that incorporates electrical engineering, chemical engineering, biology, mathematics, and physics, and we hope to stimulate interest in the field from undergraduates with all sorts of backgrounds. We have a curriculum for our class (which can be found on our openwetware wiki site).

Who is the intended audience of the group?

The intended audience is primarily MIT undergraduates, especially those from bioengineering, physics, biology, EECS, mathematics, and chemical engineering. The MIT community outside of undergraduates is encouraged to join and diversify the depth of understanding and the breadth of expertise. Synthetic biology's nature involves the cooperation of many different fields and we hope to promote this quality to achieve inter-departmental collaboration and stimulating conversation between diverse people on the subject of Synbio.

How do you plan to recruit new members?

If we receive recognition, we would recruit new members by (a) emailing the departmental mailing lists for Course 7, Course 20, Course 5, Course 6, Course 18, Course 3, Course 9, and Course 10; (b) distributing posters around campus; (c) participating in the Activities Midway; (d) word-of-mouth; (e) speaking about the group at departmental seminars; (f) encouraging professors to speak about our group at the end of lectures; (g) advertising during our IAP class; and (h) speaking to individuals involved in groups such as Synberc,, and others;

How large do you expect the group to become? Why?

We hope to incorporate as many people as are interested in the field of synthetic biology in the MIT community. Because our focus applies to and incorporates so many different majors and specialties, we expect to start off relatively small, but increase in membership as we raise interest in Synbio and the proposed joint Course 6/7 major. We hope to eventually become a group of 50-100 members, interested in and excited about exploring the field of Synbio and the undergraduate opportunities available.

What has already been accomplished?

We have already established our group constitution and voted on preliminary leadership. We have 10 enthusiastic undergraduate members who are excited to get more students interested in Synbio. We have a web presence on OpenWetware containing our ASA application and constitution. We are working on organizing our first seminar for next spring, our logo, and our first flyers for publicity.

We have discussed our plans for visiting local high schools to teach them about synthetic biology and open up discussion for the ethics of the research. We have reached out to many organizations such as iGEM, SEED, Synberc, and for help in organizing our lab class and collaborating in outreach to undergraduates at MIT. We have contacted EMD-Millipore, Geneious, Qiagen, and New England Biolabs for financial support and possible networking lunches.

We have completed our IAP class curriculum, which will be 2-3 hours a day, 3 days a week. We have already received a co-sponsorship commitment with Course 6 for our lab class, and we hope to extend this to Course 20 and 7 as well. We have met with EHS to ensure that our class will follow every EHS guideline and be safe as well as fun.

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