The College of Life Sciences led iGEM team has struck gold at an international student competition challenging entrants to build biological systems to operate in living cells.
The Dundee side, featuring seven final year undergraduates – four from the College of Life Sciences, two from the School of Engineering, Physics and Mathematics, and one from the School of Computing – were awarded a gold medal at the 2012 iGEM European Jamboree in Amsterdam.
Competing against 53 teams from across Europe, the Dundee team received the award as recognition of them performing to the highest standard. The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition.
At the start of the iGEM competition, student teams are given a kit of biological parts. They then spent 10 weeks over the summer designing and building new biological “machines”. The Dundee project ‘Six, Lyse and Obliterate – a synthetic silver bullet against healthcare acquired infection’ took an interdisciplinary approach to this very topical problem.
“We are delighted with this latest success,” said Professor Frank Sargent of the College of Life Sciences at Dundee, who led the team. “They have gained just reward for their hard work, enthusiasm and skill."
The Dundee team received £2500 from the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee to fund their participation in the iGEM competition.
Team Instructor Dr Fordyce Davidson, from the Division of Mathematics, added, “We were very honoured to receive such strong support from the Nine Trades. We hope that we were able to fly the flag for Dundee in Amsterdam and show that it is a city where inspiring things happen.”
The bacterium C.Difficile lives harmlessly in most people, but when other treatments disturb the natural balance of the gut, C.diff dominates and can cause serious illnesses and even death. The team took up the challenge of designing a new possible treatment – a way of introducing another, modified bacterium that is completely harmless to humans but lethal to C.diff.
A central part of the project and of the iGEM ethos as a whole, is involving the general public in debate about synthetic biology. The Dundee team worked with youngsters at the Shore Drop-In Centre in Dundee, wrote and produced a song, created a comic strip that was distributed to schools and libraries across the country and even put on their own show at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
A celebration will be held at the University in the team’s honour next month. The successful team members are Rachael Evans, Nicola Morris, Kimberly Page, Avril Smart (all Life Sciences), Jill McGowan and Johnny Weightman (Mathematics) and Chris Walker (Computing).
More information about iGEM is available at www.igem.org.