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Published: 2022-02-21

New interactive gene-editing installation at Curiosum

NEWS In 2020 and 2021 Curiosum partnered with Umeå University students from a Design-Build-Test course to make an interactive installation. Visitors can now test the prototype CRISPR-Cas9 game.

Text: Gabrielle Beans

'We prioritize tactile experiences and inspiration over static displays of information, and so we need to think creatively of ways to convey scientific discoveries and inspiration through hands-on activities. This requires an interdisciplinary approach, which is perfectly suited to the format of the design-build-test course. We all learn together and hopefully make new installations that Curiosum's public can enjoy and learn from too!" says Gabrielle Beans, content developer at Curiosum and product owner for the gene-editing game project.

The course Design-Build-Test at Umeå University is challenging, but fun, as student groups work through project challenges towards a common goal. They have the space to think creatively and learn critical skills in planning, teamwork and problem-solving.  During the 2021 autumn term, the teams worked in fast-paced sprints to achieve the goals laid out by research and industry partners.

In 2020, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of the applications of CRISPR-Cas9 to modify genes with high precision. This was a pivotal discovery, and, since Emmanuelle Charpentier was based at Umeå University during the time of her discovery, of great importance to the local community. But how many people in Umeå understand how CRISPR works?

Explaining complex genetic concepts to children can be complicated, and Curiosum set out to create a game that could not only help understand the CRISPR-Cas9 tool, but also be fun and interactive.

Curiosum participated in the Design-Build-Test course at Umeå University for the first time in 2020 with a CRISPR gene-editing game prototype. In this game, you design a component of the CRISPR-CAS9 tool, a guide-RNA, using colourful blocks, in order to solve a gene-editing puzzle and change a tree’s leaf colour.

In 2021, a new group of students at Umeå University worked to improve the game and make it robust enough for Curiosum to make it available to visitors. In Curiosum Makerspace the students delved into digital fabrication, creating prototypes using 3-D printing, laser cutting, electronics and computer programming. They also exercised their science communication skills, working on texts and prototype design with feedback from children in the target age groups.

“I had a great time during the project, everything from designing the prototype to building it. Working with and having access to Curiosums workshop was a key part that made it possible to do everything within the time limit of the course.”, says Andreas Nenner, a student in the 2021 DBT course.

The final result, “Klipp och CRISPR-a”, is an attractive, upright integrated installation in a wooden container with a touch-screen computer and coloured blocks that attach and detach with magnetism. The digital game features a scientist, inspired by Nobel laureate Emmanuelle Charpentier, telling you how CRISPR works and asking you to change the leaves on a tree to a different colour.

You place coloured nucleotide blocks over a series of sensors to match a DNA sequence displayed on a screen, ‘designing’ a CRISPR-Cas9 guide RNA. The ‘gene scissors’ cut the game-DNA in the correct place and change a tree's leaves. You have to try it for yourself to see what happens to the tree when you are successful - or fail!

Information about the project:

An interactive gene editing game at Curiosum
Product owner: Gabrielle Beans Picón 

2021 Team:

Oscar Fredriksson
Abdelbasset Yabrag
Patrik Appelblad
Anna Henningsson
Louice Lindroth
Oscar Behndig
Andreas Nenner

2020 Team:

Linda Allo
Astrid Lindberg
Fritiof Hellmark
Elias Hökfors
Axel Karlsson
Julia Viklander

About Curiosum:

Curiosum is Umeå's new science center that invites you to a world of curious exploration on the Art Campus. The aim is to increase the interest and knowledge of children, young people and the general public in science and technology. Curiosum is located at Umeå University and is part of the strategic partnership with Umeå Municipality.

Curiosum webpage