QGEM Blog
A monthly newsfeed of our activities

2016

  • Simran’s QGEM Journey

    Saturday September 10th, 2016
    By: Simran Sharrma


    The past few months were refreshingly research intensive, whether I was working on QGEM or other marine projects. I found that QGEM’s research subject this year aligned well with the context of my thesis next year, allowing me to really benefit and learn from all that we did. The most important lesson I took away from QGEM this year was the importance of troubleshooting and working forwards and backwards in reaching our desired products. At the same time, it allowed me to focus on all the different pathways you can take to gain an understanding of what we’re working with. I can’t wait to see our final results and presentation!
  • Danielle’s QGEM Journey

    Wednesday September 7th, 2016
    By: Danielle Ciren


    I joined the QGEM team in summer 2015. Having just finished up my first year at Queen’s University, it was my first introduction to scientific research. The prospect of learning about this unique interdisciplinary field, synthetic biology, was very exciting. During the following school year I continued with QGEM as a member of the synbio club, and with the QGEM 2016 team this summer. I have learned a lot about synthetic biology and the research process from my time at Queen’s and on the team. In September 2015 I was given the opportunity to attend the iGEM Jamboree in Boston. I had the chance to learn about synthetic biology research being conducted by undergraduate students like myself all over the world. It definitely inspired me to continue with research, and showed me that it takes a great deal of collaboration and creativity to implement so many unique ideas.
  • Kennedy’s QGEM Journey

    Sunday September 4th, 2016
    By: Kennedy Ayoo


    This summer, I had the privilege of working with fourteen talented students who share my passion for synthetic biology and understand its potential in finding solutions for complex worldwide issues. As a wet lab volunteer, I was able to refine my research skills while investigating nonribosomal peptide synthetases: a class of multimodular enzymes that produce a significant portion of the bioactive molecules available in nature. Our team was able to draw from our various academic backgrounds and take an interdisciplinary approach to genetically engineering nonribosomal peptide synthetases. My involvement with the iGEM team at Queen’s University has helped me make new connections and strengthen existing friendships, all while fueling my interest in genetic engineering and synthetic biology.
  • Julia’s QGEM Journey

    Thursday September 1st, 2016
    By: Julia Grein


    Summer 2016 is coming to a close and Kingston is becoming more busy with students arriving.  Being so caught up in lab work and other QGEM duties, and looking forward to the iGEM Giant Jamboree, I nearly forgot about school actually starting!

    QGEM was able to carry out many of it’s self­defined goals of lab work deadlines and increased outreach and online involvement. None of this would have been possible without the dedication of our co­directors Jia and Dragos, along with the executives and volunteers. Being my second time as a QGEMian, I felt that this year’s team became closer through social events, which improved students’ abilities to work together and thus helped QGEM achieve these goals. Not only were many Streptomyces cultures grew this summer, but QGEM acted as the catalyst to grow new friendships by a synthetic biology bond.
  • Last Week of ESU

    Wednesday August 31st, 2016
    By: Rajiv Tanwani




    QGEM wrapped up its final week of teaching synthetic biology with the Summer Enrichment Experience at Queen’s (SEEQ) program run by Queen’s Enrichment Studies Unit (ESU). This week QGEM instructors Jia Tanwani and Yifei Wang taught high school students (grades 10 to 12) the tenets of synthetic biology. Students were brought up to speed with a review of cells which they were already quite familiar with. Next, an in-depth discussion of DNA commenced followed by an introduction to the critical processes of transcription and translation. These concepts were reinforced through various interactive activities such as dessert cells, Twizzler DNA/RNA, a transcription-translation puzzle, DNA extraction from bananas and much more!

    Now that students understood basic scientific concepts, they were then taught the means and mechanisms to manipulate living organisms, more specifically bacterial cells. This was done through educating them about bacterial growth, both inside and outside the lab, concluded by an exercise where students streaked their own agar plates with cheek cells, or bacteria from their smartphones. Finally, the last day of the course was concluded with an introduction to common laboratory techniques used in synthetic biology labs such as gel electrophoresis and the use of viral vectors for transformation and transfection. Students were tested on their knowledge in a variety of formats such as an informal review period at the beginning of each day’s lesson, a fill-in-the-blank quiz completed in groups of three to four students, and an oral quiz game in which the class was divided into two teams. QGEM had an amazing time teaching the SEEQ students and was pleased to receive great feedback from the students and ESU Program Directors as well. See below for links to our lesson plans as well as the William & Mary SynBio Curriculum.
  • Rock Dunder Social

    Monday July 25th, 2016
    By: Jia Tanwani


    On Sunday, the QGEM team headed out to Stanley Lash Lane to visit the locally famous hiking spot, Rock Dunder. Rock Dunder features a number of hiking trails ranging from easy to moderate to intense in their difficulty. Our team, of course, opted for the most difficult trek to the top of Rock Dunder. Once we got to the summit, we saw a breathtaking view of Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands. After soaking up the view, we spent some time telling each other funny stories, mostly about crazy or cool incidents that had happened to us back in first year as frosh at Queen’s. We had many laughs and got bit by many bugs in the process, but it was all worth it! As we descended from the summit, there were many cabins and serene viewing spots that we encountered. Anna and I found a particular cabin quite endearing and so we explored it thoroughly. Dragos even tried to catch a fish with his bare hands when we got close to the water. The drive back to Kingston was even more fun than the drive to Rock Dunder because we were excitedly chatting away about how much fun the hike had been. We were also discussing Pokemon Go in depth.


    The QGEM team at the summit of Rock Dunder, admiring the scenic view.

    All of us were famished by the time we got back to Kingston, so we decided to head to Denny’s for brunch! The brunch at Denny’s was, as usual, phenomenal and we ate with gusto. We were left in a food coma post-brunch, so we each went home with plans on taking an afternoon siesta. QGEM’s Rock Dunder Social was quite a success and it was a phenomenal team bonding opportunity outside of our regular avenues of academia.

    Shown right: Some of the mouth-watering plates ordered during brunch at Denny’s!
  • Interview with Dr. Adams

    Wednesday July 6th, 2016
    By: Jia Tanwani



    On Tuesday July 5, 2016, Dr. Adams was interviewed by P&P lead Jia Tanwani at Queen’s campus.

    To supplement our project this year on novel drug discovery and optimization, as well as related projects engaged by other iGEM teams, we’ve decided to film a three-part interview series. This interview series aims to address overarching questions related to biosynthetic production, aspects of drug design, metabolite reprogramming and much, much more from a variety of unique perspectives. Yesterday we had the privilege of kicking off our interview series by interviewing the one and only, Dr. Michael Adams. Dr. Adams is a professor and the head of the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s University. Not only does he have 16 patents on various inventions, but he is also constantly bubbling with energy at the prospect of new research projects. Being such an inspiring figure at Queen’s with an extensive background in pharmacology, we decided to interview Dr. Adams.

    The interview took an interesting trajectory as Dr. Adams forayed into his journey of getting a drug targeting male sexual dysfunction to the market. He revealed to us that patenting has a complex and detailed language. What this means is there are many new terms and definitions that must be learnt when patenting an idea or technology, and understanding the extent of protection a patent can give you is also critical. However, the most difficult aspect of getting a drug to market according to Dr. Adams is scale-up of the drug. Dr. Adams also stressed the importance of working with the right people who you can completely trust, as well as sharing the company or profits equally with those who you work with.

    It was great getting to converse with Dr. Adams in such depth and we certainly learned a lot about the drug design process as well as about Dr. Adams on a more personal level (Dr. Adams is a basketball enthusiast, playing five times a week). We’re looking forward to completing our interview series in the next month or so as we interview two more inspiring individuals. Stay tuned to see the full video of the interview with Dr. Adams.
  • Rajiv’s QGEM Journey

    Saturday July 2nd, 2016
    By: Rajiv Tanwani


    I have just experienced my first year at Queen’s and have completely fallen in love with the Queen’s community, and QGEM has been a big part of my amazing experiences. I joined QGEM because the first time I came across it, it seemed like a very cool area to explore. I had no previous knowledge about synthetic biology coming into QGEM. I was immensely drawn to QGEM because this year’s project on nonribosomal peptides is a very unexplored domain in science and the research that QGEM 2016 is conducting is both novel and exciting. Having just finished my first year, I was not even aware of a way to synthesize peptides without the use of ribosomes. Joining QGEM has taught me a lot in the past two months and has made me more aware and informed about the process of planning and conducting research.

    As a volunteer I have been involved in both the Dry Lab as well as Policy & Practices, but having a full time job only permits me to devote a couple hours to QGEM a week. For P&P, I’ve helped out with editing multiple project proposals, presentations, and teaching content. I also received a unique and fun opportunity to help teach a synthetic biology course to grade 7-8 students for a week. Teaching the synthetic biology course was a cool experience because it made me realize how much more knowledgeable I am coming out of my first year at university. This realization of being knowledgeable gave me confidence to teach the students at the Enrichment Studies Unit.

    I also thoroughly enjoyed the QGEM socials! At the socials we get to wind down and take our minds off proteins, DNA gels, coding scripts etc. Being a part of the QGEM team thus far has given me such wonderful opportunities and I look forward to working with the QGEM team for the rest of this summer and in the future!
  • QGEM Social at Geneva Bistro

    Saturday July 2nd, 2016
    By: Jia Tanwani

    On Wednesday June 29th, the QGEM team decided to head over to Geneva Crêpe Cafe Bistro for lunch! The team spent the lunch hour enjoying delicious crêpes and waffles while doing some core team bonding.

    A gorgeous picture of some of the QGEM members who attended the social.

    Not wanting to lose any time, we ordered! Some of us ordered savory crêpes, while others ordered sweet crêpes and hot drinks. We talked about our lives (outside the lab that is), our future plans, complained about the weather, and much much more!

    (Left) Crème Brûlée Latte ordered by Rajiv Tanwani. (Right) Classic Hot Chocolate ordered by Jia Tanwani.

    We even taught Yifei how to take a proper selfie. The secret to the perfect selfie is to have your arm completely extended and high above in the air so as to get as many people as possible in the picture! Thanks to Sabrina for her expert tips on how to take a selfie.

    Our delicious team bonding social definitely helped us make it through another week in the labs and was a great precedent to the Canada Day long weekend.

    Thanks to Sabrina, Yifei finally managed to take a decent selfie of the QGEM squad.
  • New Website Launch!

    Tuesday June 28th, 2016
    By: Julia Grein


    On this fine Tuesday in QGEM history, the 28th day of the sixth month, we are excited to announce the official launch of our new website (*cheering and applause*). We’re so excited to be able to share with you QGEM’s synbio journey with project archives and blog posts, as well as photos from our summers in Kingston. (We like to document the rare occasions where we escape from the labs!) We hope you enjoy browsing through our memories as much as we enjoyed creating those moments!

    Lastly, we would like to thank Yifei and his editing crew for their tireless efforts in writing, designing and coding the website. Furthermore, a big thank you to Dragos for his initiative in getting QGEM a new home on the World Wide Web. Be sure to check back to the website and our social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter) for updates throughout the summer and feel free to contact us to learn more!
  • CSM Conference

    Wednesday June 15th, 2016
    By: Jia Tanwani

    The QGEM team had the pleasure of being invited to the 66th Annual Conference of the Canadian Society of Microbiologists in Toronto, Ontario to represent the Ontario iGEM collective known as oGEM. oGEM consists of six Ontario universities: University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Queen’s University, University of Ottawa, Ryerson University, and McMaster University. We started off the day at the iGEM booth set up at Hart House, the gorgeous conference venue. The purpose of the iGEM booth was to promote synthetic biology awareness amongst the conference delegates while also telling professionals about our research in the field of nonribosomal peptides. A major project that oGEM is working on this year is creating a synthetic biology network for professionals in Ontario. The aim of this network is to increase awareness and support for synthetic biology in Ontario, as well as to find potential professionals interested in the various projects that Ontario iGEM teams take on each year. The CSM conference was a splendid opportunity to meet and network with microbiologists from all across Canada.

    Photo: QGEM members (from left to right) Dragos Chiriac, Hillary Chan, Jia Tanwani, Danai Topouza, and Yifei Wang at the iGEM booth at the CSM Conference venue in Toronto

    Afterwards, all of the iGEM teams in attendance headed up to a difference venue in Wallberg Memorial Building to have an oGEM meeting. The oGEM meeting enabled each university’s team to discuss their project ideas and explain what planning had been done, what advances had been made, and what setbacks had been encountered in the Wet Lab, Dry Lab, and Policy & Practices components of the project. We also had an opportunity to discuss how all the teams that are part of the oGEM collective can specifically collaborate on certain projects, whether through sharing wet lab protocols or designing synthetic biology workshops collectively. Furthermore, we discussed new platforms across which oGEM communication can happen in the future in a more direct, efficient, and non-redundant way. It was a very productive meeting overall despite our meeting room being boiling hot at a temperature of 27 degrees.

    Photo: Members of oGEM (Ontario iGEM collective) who attended the CSM Conference

    The final portion of our day consisted of presentations at Macleod Auditorium, at the U of T Medical Sciences Building. Each team presented a brief overview of their research to the other iGEM teams and conference delegates. Each team has diverse interests. For example, Waterloo iGEM is working with prions this year, McMaster iGEM is working on IL-2 delivery using lactobacilli in the GI tract, and Toronto iGEM is working to create paper that can detect and quantify gold.

    Looking back on our day, it was an amazing opportunity to learn, showcase our research and network. We had a blast at CSM! Thank you to the co-chairs of CSM 2016 for giving oGEM and Queen’s the opportunity to showcase our passion for synthetic biology research and to oGEM for their continual support and guidance.
  • QGEM Pancake Social

    Monday June 13th, 2016
    By: Jia Tanwani

    Photo: A handful of team members gracefully posing for a group picture at our early morning social.

    This past Saturday, QGEM organized a pancake social as a way for team members to mingle, socialize, and catch-up outside of working on this year’s project. Co-Dictator, Dragos Chiriac, put his brilliant cooking skills to use and made pancakes for the whole team. Once the whole team was stuffed with as much pancakes as it is humanly possible to consume, followed by Starbucks coffee (thanks to the best PI ever: John Allingham!!!), team members were finally awake and chatting away! Later we moved the social outdoors and continued to socialize on the beautiful patio adjacent to the pool. All in all, it was a beautiful and well-spent Saturday morning with the QGEM squad. Looking forward to many, many more socials in the coming months.
  • Beginning of Summer '16 and ESU

    Tuesday May 31st, 2016
    By: Jia Tanwani

    Synthetic biology is a fascinating new field in the world of science and technology. Given its increasing prevalence in society, QGEM 2016 took the initiative in educating budding scientists from grades 6 to 8 about what synthetic biology is and what potential it holds to change our world. We started off teaching our students about cells, the fundamental building blocks of organisms. We moved on to discussing DNA and how DNA directs all critical processes in the cell. We concluded each week of teaching on the third day with a discussion on proteins, which do the majority of the work inside the cell. The uniting theme in all of our lesson plans was how we can use nature as our guide and modify it or borrow from it to create devices, parts, or biological systems that enable us to solve pressing issues in the modern day world. We felt it was fitting that students also get a sense of what real life researchers and scientists do on an everyday basis and how successful researchers embarked on the journey that led them to their present day careers. Using resources from HHMI BioInteractive, the students learned exciting new facts about research conducted in various fields like neuroscience and geology.

    After our lesson on cells, the students participated in an interactive activity in which they constructed their own animal cells using Pop-Tarts®, marshmallows, and gummy bears. This activity was adopted from the William & Mary 2015 Synthetic Biology Teacher Curriculum.

    Afterwards, the students constructed their own DNA using Twizzlers and marshmallows to learn more about DNA structure. DNA extraction was by far the highlight of the students who attended the QGEM Synthetic Biology Course. Both activities were adopted from the William & Mary 2015 Synthetic Biology Teacher Curriculum.

    Armed with their knowledge of the principles of DNA, mRNA, tRNA, and amino acids, the students solved a complex puzzle put together by QGEM Synthetic Biology Course instructor, Jia Tanwani.

    Teaching our Synthetic Biology Course for the last two weeks as a part of Queen’s University Enrichment Studies Unit (ESU) was an amazing experience for us! It was an amazing opportunity to share our scientific knowledge and impart our passion for synthetic biology to the budding scientists who attended our course. Stay tuned for more updates about our upcoming course for high school students as part of ESU’s Summer Enrichment Experience at Queen’s (SEEQ) program!
  • It has arrived!

    April 29th, 2016
    By: Jia Tanwani

    Pictured right is Co-Director Dragos Chiriac excitedly opening the 2016 iGEM DNA Kit.

    We finally got our iGEM DNA Kit in the mail today, and receiving this kit marks the commencement of our work. QGEM 2016 is beyond thrilled to start working on this year’s project focusing on modifying the function and activity of nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS). NRPSs are large multi-modular enzymes that create a variety of structurally and functionally diverse peptides. Our project has potential implications for medicinal drug development as nonribosomal peptide synthetases have been the source of various antibacterial and antifungal drugs.

    It’s great that platforms such as iGEM give undergrads a chance to practice real-world science through projects that are self-directed and personally meaningful. The iGEM DNA Kit is just the start of what shall unfold to be a brilliant summer!

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