University of Dundee

Winning Dundee iGEM Team members endorsed by entrepreneurs at the cutting edge of research commercialisation

23 Oct 2013

Two members of the Dundee iGEM Team met entrepreneurs and representatives of spinout companies from the University of Dundee today at the Dundee Incubator.

The team who won the iGEM European Championship out of 60 teams from Universities across Europe was invited to the incubator by the manager John Mackenzie who provides guidance and advice to emerging University spinout ventures, and is also Head of Knowledge Exchange at the University’s Research and Innovation Service.

He said, “We are delighted to host the European Champions and introduce them to the entrepreneurs who have taken biotechnology research and transformed it into commercial spin-outs.

“Dundee is a renowned for its research excellence and also has a strong reputation in translating expertise in life sciences, computing and biomedical engineering into economic growth for the region by supporting and encouraging spinout company activity and locating high technology companies in the city.

“We want to demonstrate to these young innovators that this is a very exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Dundee.”

Chris Earl and Philip Rodger met representatives from CXR Biosciences (a unique biotechnology company that works with companies to accelerate drug discovery and solve issues relating to the safety of compounds or the selection of drug candidates), Nesta (which promotes innovation in the UK), ex scientia (a technology platform company operating at the IT/healthcare interface, using data analytics and machine learning in drug design and pharmacogenomics) and Kinetic Discovery Ltd (which offers highly-specialised Drug Discovery Services).

Andrew Hopkins, Professor of Medicinal Informatics and SULSA Research Professor of Translational Biology and founder of Kinetic Discovery Ltd and Ex Scientica was enthusiastic about the team’s project and prospects for the future. He said,

“I’m excited about the opportunities available to these young innovators in Dundee. Thanks to the Scottish Government, the University and Research Council funding there is a great deal of support - and potential financial backing - available for life sciences research innovation to be realised into commercial outcomes, which ultimately benefit the regional economy, environment and world-wide health initiatives.” Chris and Philip also met CLS Innovator of the Year 2012 Richard Bickerton who divides his time between the College of Life Sciences and the Dundee Incubator.

Chris and Philip were joined for a buffet lunch by the ‘tenants’ – companies currently situated at the Dundee Incubator – all of who expressed their delight at the team’s European success and wished them luck for the international finals in Boston on 1 November 2013.

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.