Northeastern iGEM Team to Compete in iGEM Jamboree
International genetically engineered machine (iGEM) is a synthetic biology competition in which over 250 collegiate teams from around the world employ biology as an engineering substrate to try and address societal problems. The actual competition of iGEM is from the judged design and application of BioBricks: genetic parts that conform to iGEM standards. “The use of the ‘biobricks’ allows for collaboration between various teams, while still fostering the program’s competitive spirit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see significant scientific contributions come out of the iGEM program,” notes ChE PhD student Marissa Puzan, Team Advisor.
The competition itself fits into the larger trend of increasing interest in synthetic biology, evidenced by the emergence of synthetic biology startups in therapeutics (Synlogic), manufacturing (Ginkgo Bioworks & Zymergen), and even software (Benchling and Lattice Automations). Several technologies are driving this trend, including laboratory automation, cheaper synthetic DNA, CRISPR and microfluidics.
“Last year we explored the production of heterologous antibodies in microalgae. It was a learning experience, to say the least. At the end of the year, we were able to successfully design and construct a microalgae expression plasmid, conforming to the iGEM standards, which will allow future iGEM teams to further explore microalgae as a synthetic biology chassis. We received a bronze medal, which we were happy with, but we hope to do much better this second time around,” remarks team captain Josh Timmons, S’16.
ChE Associate Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons serves as a Team Instructor to the group. “We have incredibly nice, bright, and ingenious students on the NU-iGEM Team; these students live, breathe, and dream about their project. They love this so much and it shows in their level of self-initiative, creativity, focus, energy, and hard work,” she says.
The team will present their project at the iGEM Jamboree at Hynes Convention Center at the end of the year.