Open Source Resources for Teaching Synthetic Biology in Low-Resource Settings

 This project aims to create a set of open source resources for teaching synthetic biology in a practical, engaging way in places where there is limited access to funding and scientific equipment.

The Idea

Despite the wealth of teaching resources available on the internet, there is a lack of good quality resources for teaching synthetic biology concepts in low resource settings. At the same time, the number of makerspaces and fab labs around the world is growing fast, and 3D printers – which can make many items of low cost, open source scientific hardware – are available in ever more places. There is an opportunity here to create easily accessible teaching materials to introduce synthetic biology concepts, and in particular, outcomes of other Open Plant initiatives, to a new audience – so that these can be used to spark the excitement of a new generation of open scientists around the world.

The project will work in partnership with Lab 13, a practical science education program run by Kumasi Hive makerspaces & innovation hub in Ghana. Lab 13 currently works with 6 schools in a peri-urban district, which between them have around 1000 pupils aged 12 – 15. None of the schools has a lab or science equipment other than access to Lab 13.

The Team

Dr Sabrina Gonzalez-Jorge,
Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge

Dr Alexis Moschopoulos,
Postdoctoral Researcher, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds

Mr Hans Pfalzgraf,
PhD Student, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Ms Aseda Addai-Deseh,
Head of Lab 13 Practical Science Education Project, Kumasi Hive

Ms Anna Lowe,
Co-Founder of Kumasi Hive

Mr Harry Akligoh,
Medical Laboratory Scientist and Kumasi Hive project lead

Project Outputs

Project Report

Summary of the project's achievements and future plans

Project Proposal

Original proposal and application


Project Resources

Implementation of Project in Ghana with Prac-Science Lab.


The team developed lesson plans on the basics of Biology and Synthetic Biology that were adapted to the curriculum of Junior High Schools in Ghana by the project lead of Prac-Science Lab to ensure that they were suitable to be taught to High School children in low-resource settings. The lessons were trialed in Ghana with some of the Prac-Science Lab High School children from 18th-29th June, 2018. The lesson trials were done in 2 schools, Ejisu Roman Catholic Junior High School and Weweso Municipal Assembly Junior High School. The facilitators for the program were Alexis Moscopoulos and Harry Akligoh. Generally, they taught the same lesson concurrently to 2 different sets of children in each school for each session. Each lesson lasted for about 70 minutes and the total number of students reached was 375.

The main outcome was the broadening of the students’ scope on Biology as some of the topics taught are not fully captured in their curriculum.  

Report and outcomes

Over the six month period, six lesson plans were made which were taught to different groups of students over the trial period of two weeks. The lessons were:

  1. An Introduction to Genes with the Bingo Traits Game

  2. Living Cells and Microscopy with the WaterScope

  3. Grow your own Microbes - Part1 (Setting up of the Experiment)

  4. Grow your own Microbes - Part2 (Measuring of the outcome)

  5. DNA extraction from Fruits

  6. Introduction to Synthetic Biology

Generally, students understood the concepts of cells, DNA and traits and were excited to perform practical activities on them as their lessons at school are quite theoretical and lack practicals.

The lesson on Synthetic Biology however, was quite difficult for the students to grasp. The team concluded that it would be best to teach such a topic at the Senior High School level where it would be much appreciated as those students have more knowledge in Biology to understand it.

Personnel from Prac-Science Lab recently participated in the Biology Experience Day in Accra, Ghana to speak about the project and advise the audience on how the lessons can be used and adapted for future projects.



Follow on Plans

We plan to finalise the lessons based on the experience of delivering them in Ghana and the feedback received, then publish and disseminate the full set of lessons in the following ways:

In Ghana:

  • Continue to offer these lessons to children in the Kumasi area via the Prac-Science Lab program

  • Disseminate the lessons to other organisations and networks involved in teaching practical science in Ghana, that we are already connected to (including GH Scientific, which plans to implement these lessons in their Bio Girls Day and NeuroCamp next year; Ghana STEM Network; PEN Practical Education Network; Exponential Education; and the Ghana Tech & Business Hubs Network).

  • Trial the Synthetic Biology lessons with Senior High School level students


  • Publicise the availability of the lessons to the GOSH community – Harry Akligoh and Anna Lowe will attend GOSH 2018 and share information about this project.

  • We are investigating appropriate places to post information about the lessons, such as by submitting them to wikiversity which is one of the highest Google results for Biology lessons

  • All team members will share information with their personal networks and relevant new contacts, including on forthcoming trips to Ethiopia (Anna), and Kenya (Hans).