Sunday, 2 November 2014

Greetings from Boston

I'm in Boston along with the Macquarie iGEM team attending the iGEM Giant Jamboree. iGEM is the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition where teams of undergraduate students from around the world showcase their synthetic biology research achievements. This year there are 245 teams with over 2500 participants attending the iGEM Giant Jamboree. In addition to the Macquarie University team, there are two other Australian teams from Melbourne University and Sydney University.

The Macquarie project was Photophyll: the Green Machine, where our students were looking to express the chlorophyll biosynthetic pathway in the bacterium E. coli, with the idea of trying to make a photosynthetic E. coli that could use light energy to make hydrogen gas as a biofuel by linking photosystem II to a hydrogenase enzyme. We also have a great outreach project- So You Think You Can Synthesize- the worlds first online synthetic biology reality contest, which I have blogged about previously.

Our team gave a great presentation today and did a good job handling the questions from the judging panel, who were excited by So You Think You Can Synthesize. I think our team has a chance at a gold medal, we will have to see how we go. This is the fifth year we have had a Macquarie team competing in the competition, so far we have been the top Australian team each year, and we have won 1 bronze and 3 silver medals.

It has been an interesting experience for me attending iGEM for the first time, quite different from going to a normal scientific conference. There is an enormous range in the quality of the research projects from pretty weak to absolutely amazing. So far the highlights for me were the teams from Imperial College London, Paris Bettencourt, and Stanford-Brown-Spelman. Imperial College would be my pick for the top team overall with their project of making bacterial cellulose that could be used for water filtration, and functionalised with specific binding proteins to remove water contaminants. Paris Bettencourt had a broad ranging project investigating different ways to manipulate the bacteria that live on human bodies in order to change human body odour. Stanford-Brown-Spelman had an ambitious project to make a biosynthetic unmanned aerial vehicle manufactured out of a bacterial cellulose acetate with biologically-programmed waterproofing, programmed timed biodegradation and biosensing capabilities. The imagination and creativity of some of the teams has been very impressive.

The MQ iGEM team in Boston flanking our team banner there in the background

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