BioBuilder teams are in all stages of development: some are in their exponential growth phase, some are fully operational, some are in their conceptual phase. Different opportunities and different challenges affect our growth, and today I’d like to introduce you to a group that started a mere four years ago and has been booming. Meet the team of Universidade Federal do Amazonas (UFAM).
The amazing energy and dedication of Prof. Carlos Gustavo Nunes drove this group as he founded the team in 2012 and, in his own words, "convinced students to enter in this madness that is Synthetic Biology". To support him in this colossal effort came Spartaco Astolfi, Professor of Genetic Engineering at UFAM, whose experience has been fundamental to the growth of the project.
UFAM team's work is focused on mercury bioremediation. Using BioBricks, the team is developing new bioengineering elements to convert soluble mercury to a less toxic form, which can be captured and recycled. The team currently has 15 undergraduate student members and two instructors. This team put together beautiful websites for their iGEM and TECNOX (a SynBio event in Latin America) competitions. On these pages the team relays their goals and their data to other bioengineers and to general public in simple and understandable terms, which drives the team's own conceptualization of their findings.
The team performed exceptionally at iGEM competitions winning a Bronze Medal in 2013 and a Gold Medal in 2014. However, in 2015 they was unable to attend the competition due to the lack of funding. The team learned from this experience and put together an amazing fundraising campaign to ensure they would be able to attend iGEM in 2016.
To fundraise, the team created a message that deeply connects with people of Brazil. Formulated in a video, this message explains that the team's project addresses a fundamental local problem. In Brazil, mercury contamination in the Amazon is widespread due to the use of mercury in the gold mining industry. The team then explains, in most accessible terms and through effective use of visuals, the core mercury bioremediation concepts of their synthetic biology project – thereby relating science to people's everyday lives. Using Youtube and Kickante (a Brazilian crowdfunding website), the team delivered their message to fellow Brazilians and to organizations such as Google, Natura and even an investment bank. As a result of this campaign, UFAM brought one of the biggest South American groups to iGEM Giant Jamboree 2016: 8 students, 2 instructors and 1 advisor. UFAM returned with a proud Silver Medal this year.
The team's positivity and dedication are truly inspiring. The team looks so happy in every picture they take! Credit for this, at least in part, goes to Prof. Carlos Gustavo Nunes who believes that play is a critical part of learning. As he teaches genetics, biotechnology, genetic engineering, biosafety and bioethics, he makes sure to equip his students with educational resources that would allow them to play – and have fun – with SynBio.
Dear readers, do you feel like you’ve been growing? If not, what do you think stands in your way? Let us know!
if you are working on an ecology project or have been fundraising for your projects, please do write to us!
About BioBuilder and BioBuilder Global
BioBuilder enables students to tackle big questions of synthetic biology - and empowers educators to reconnect with their love of teaching.