University of Dundee

Dundee iGEM team receives support from University Principal Pete Downes and GSK Academic Liaison

23 Oct 2013

The Dundee iGEM Team received another message of support this week from two of the leading supporters of innovation at the University. The team who were crowned European champions out of 60 Universities this October in Lyon, presented their award-winning project to University Principal Pete Downes and Malcolm Skingle CBE, Academic Liaison for GlaxoSmithKline.

Professor Downes said, “I am very proud of the team for all their hard work and enthusiasm; they certainly deserve to be European Champions. Their success illustrates to me that as a University we are doing all the right things in helping our younger members develop their innovative and entrepreneurial skills.

“I have always believed that attempting to solve a real-world problem is what brings together people from across the disciplines and it is this collaborative effort that drives academic-led innovation.”

Dr. Skingle said, “It is a real pleasure to be invited to meet the team and see the presentation. They are a very keen group of young innovators and I am certain they will continue to apply their research to real-world problems in the future.”

Dr. Malcolm Skingle has over a decade’s experience in the management of research activities at the interface between industry and academia in the UK and US, and works closely with government departments, Research and Funding Councils and small biotechnology companies. He believes that academic inter-disciplinary collaboration is a valuable driver of innovation that, managed correctly, can be translated into commercial and health benefits for all.

The team questioned the two experts on the possibility of making the award-winning project - Toxi-mop and Mop-topus (see below) – a commercial success.

Dr. Skingle advised the team on the most crucial lessons learned by research innovators who want to be successful entrepreneurs: “Don’t underestimate the importance of brainstorming, networking and product design. Consider logistics, including the cost of goods and the raw product and be realistic about whether your idea can be scaled-up to be commercially viable and therefore of interest to investors.”

Professor Downes added, “I’m not surprised that they also won the award for Best Presentation – not only is their subject matter engaging, but they deliver their project with confidence, ease and a great deal of humour. I wish them the best of luck in the Finals in Boston in November, but regardless of the result they have already made us proud as innovation ambassadors for Dundee.”

About the team, the project and the competition

This is the third year Dundee has been represented in the highly competitive, worldwide, iGEM Competition aimed at undergraduate university students. Dundee won successive gold medals at the 2011 and 2012 Jamborees but this is the first time they have been named as overall winners.

The competition requires students to use a kit of biological parts (issued by iGEM at the beginning of the summer) and to use these (and new parts of their own design) to build biological systems and operate them in living cells at laboratories in their own universities.

The Dundee team has devised a project called 'Toxi-Mop' which uses synthetic biology to engineer harmless laboratory strains of bacteria to 'clean up' water that has become contaminated with toxic algal blooms. The local value of this became apparent in the summer when the warm weather led to algal blooms in Clatto Reservoir and in the boating pond at Camperdown Country Park.

The team has also built a device ('the Mop-topus') that can be housed permanently at a lake or pond, which will continuously monitor the temperature, pH and light levels that can be used to predict the likelihood of future algal blooms.

  The 2013 Dundee inter-collegiate team comprises 10 undergraduate students: Kyle Harrison (applied computing), Nasir Ahmad (physics), Craig Johnston (mathematics), Rachel Findlay (mathematical biology), as well as Christopher Earl, Philip Rodger, Ewa Grabowiecka, Kyle Buchan, John Allan and Alice Rowan from Life Sciences.

The iGEM Foundation, which runs the competition, seeks to promote the advancement of science and education by developing an open community of students and practitioners in schools, laboratories, research institutes, and industry - in particular by involving students and the public in the development of the new field of synthetic biology.