Natalie Kuldell 0

Want to change the world? Start here

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Another wonderful season of synthetic biology’s biggest design-build-test contest (aka iGEM) wrapped up a few weeks ago, and Boston became the hub of the synthetic biology universe for five full days. During that time, more than 6,000 iGEMers pitched their genetically engineered solutions to meet local and global challenges.

Even with all its energy and excitement, iGEM is only one part of the education equation. There is a larger need and a larger opportunity to foster the next generation of biological engineers. With a price tag of almost $50,000/team, iGEM is affordable to relatively few. By contrast, America’s public school system is available to all U.S. students. If we really want to teach students – all students -- to read and write in DNA, then deploying our secondary school system is the fastest, surest way to reach that goal.

We, the undersigned, find BioBuilder to be a deep and meaningful opportunity that could enrich all schools and every student. BioBuilder takes a comprehensive approach to this educational challenge by offering openly accessible classroom curriculum and working directly with over 700 secondary school teachers in the U.S. BioBuilder’s textbook and lab kits ship to more than 200 schools annually, putting real synthetic biology research into the hands of at least 5,000 students every year. Once inspired, these students go on to launch BioBuilderClubs – a record 38 teams this year – to develop their biodesign ideas in partnership with professional scientists and engineers, and with later opportunity to peer-review and publish their work.

With the bioeconomy at 2% of the U.S. GDP and growing, there is an urgency to teach biological engineering. Our country’s 25,000 public (and 11,000 private) high schools have the reach and infrastructure to be the chassis for synthetic biology educational programming. We believe that through our existing school system, we can give all students – urban and rural, rich and poor, “science-y” and not so much – the opportunity to participate. The 700 BioBuilder classrooms, 200 lab kits, and 38 BioBuilderClubs scratch the surface. Educational efforts – both BioBuilder and iGEM – need to do more for more, or we risk undercutting the desired future of an informed and engaged citizenry as well as the strongest national bioeconomy possible.

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