Team:Calgary/Second Life


University of Calgary




You have arrived at the sixth segment of our tour or the Second Life portion of our iGEM project. The Second Life team has built an island aptly named "Synthetic Biology Interactive" to serve as a tool to be used by future iGEM teams as an educational resource. Through interactive learning, students will be able to experience many different aspects of the iGEM: from big-picture applications to Biobrick construction to crucial lab techniques. Let's now move on to the human practices component by clicking HERE.

An Introduction to Second Life
Second Life is an online, virtual world, where every object, costume, creature and patch of land is crafted by inhabitants. It is a 3D chat engine, videogame platform, and virtual classroom all rolled into one.

The University of Calgary's iGEM team is venturing aggressively into Second Life, harnessing the power of its modeling and scripting tools to create interactive models of classical operons and synthetic biology systems. We will imagine the future of synthetic biology, and walk students through the laboratories of today. In the past, our team has run seminars and lectures to introduce new students to the terminology and technology behind iGEM. In the future, students will interact with model systems directly and experiment with them to see how they work.

Access to Second Life is free, simply create a free account HERE, download the client, and you're good to go!

Second Life's Role in iGEM
So what does iGEM have to do with Second Life? Well, the problem with doing an iGEM project at university is this: sooner or later all of the students graduate. Even those who decide to participate in an iGEM team several years in a row have to get on with their lives sooner or later. The result is that a huge amount of time is spent educating the new year of students, and this problem can be especially acute for teams of entirely undergraduates like ours. Many of our students are in their first or second year, many have never been in a molecular biology lab before, and they've got to learn all the ropes if they want to have a hope of competing at iGEM level.

Ultimately, all this time spent training the next generation will pay off with a generation of new scientists, the synthetic biologists. But for right now, we really just need to get all the cloning and biobrick assembly and system tests and a dozen other kinds of work done by the end of summer.

Enter Second Life. SL has gained a lot of attention for its potential as an educational platform. The most often touted feature is that SL can offer a classroom-like environment for people at any distance from one another. While the University of Calgary's island will make an excellent hangout for idle iGEMers the world over, our focus is less on creating a classroom, and more on presenting concepts directly. We want to make it easier for new students to grasp the basics of synthetic biology by making it accessible and interactive. This is where SL's object creation and scripting facilities come into play: we can create anything we want, from molecules to cells to lab equipment, and then make it behave like the real thing.

Our Projects
Our work in Second Life breaks down into three projects, each focusing on synthetic biology from a different perspective:

The Synthetic Domain is a vision of the future of synthetic biology. It is a collection of futuristic organisms, each with useful properties and abilities included in their design. We have cells to produce your vitamins for you, cells to fight off pathogens for you, and more. The Synthetic Domain is an introduction to the potential of synthetic biology for everyone, and serves as a source of inspiration for young scientists.

The Biobrick Simulator takes DNA, proteins, other molecules from the core of the registry of biological parts, and simulates their behaviours. Instead of trying to work out how all the regulation in common systems work on paper, students can quickly and easily build the systems online to get the hang of it. The simulator also includes a level based introduction to the most common kinds of biobrick parts, designed to make the introduction to iGEM easier.

The Virtual Lab provides an interactive introduction to the various techniques involved in the application of synthetic biology and allows for basic instruction through a lab through use of lab missions. The lab activities or mission incorporate procedures such as DNA extraction, bacterial transformation, and restriction digest, which are common practices during the process of constructing biological circuits that may be put to use within bacteria. These activities are separated by difficulty, time and there are also opportunities to apply what is learned from these activities to non-structured sections of the lab. It is meant to be understandable to high school students, who may apply their newly obtained knowledge after they have had a chance to grasp basic concepts of molecular and synthetic biology in the other domains of the island. It may also serve as a successful introduction to lab procedures for future iGEM team members.