Young scientists receive training while addressing real-world issues
Six to eight months is a short time to design and complete a synthetic biology research project that addresses real-world issues. But that is exactly what ~300 teams from ~45 countries are attempting to do as part of the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) 2018 Competition. While some projects focus on advancing technology and data analysis, others have broad humanitarian implications in the fields of health, food, environment, and energy. Multidisciplinary teams of students, ranging from high school through postgraduates, learn to develop standardized research parts (called BioBricks™ parts) for biological devices and systems, and often acquire skills related to scientific collaboration, instrumentation, software, education, entrepreneurship, public policy, web site design, and art.
Reagents and guidance available from a leader in genome editing, gene synthesis, and sequencing
To support iGEM teams and foster the next generation of scientists, IDT offers participating groups technical support and access to free IDT products (20 kb gBlocks Gene Fragments or the equivalent value in CRISPR genome editing products). Over the 6 years IDT has sponsored iGEM competitions, many teams have used gBlocks Gene Fragments to make their BioBricks parts, the genetic parts that are added to the iGEM Registry of Standard Biological Parts. gBlocks fragments, which are sequence-verified, double-stranded DNA fragments up to 3000 bp, provide a fast, accurate way to generate DNA assemblies and vectors with specific, customized sequences. Recently, projects that involve genome editing for sequence knockout, repair, or mutation, have also benefited from use of Alt-R CRISPR System products from IDT.
DIY DNA assemblies—what is possible
As examples of the high-caliber projects in the iGEM competitions, we highlight 3 of the many iGEM 2017 teams who received support from IDT, ranging from technical assistance to products such as short cloning or sequencing oligos and long gBlocks fragments.
Team Vilnius-Lithuania (Figure 1)
Figure 1. Team Vilnius-Lithuania. Team Vilnius-Lithuania received the Grand Prize in the undergraduate section. Their project received 3 awards for BioBrick parts (Best New Part, New Composite Part, and Part Collection), and other aspects of their submission were nominated for additional awards, including Best Foundational Advance Project, Education & Public Engagement, Wiki, Poster, and Presentation.
This team developed a versatile system named SynORI (synthetic origin of replication) for regulating groups of plasmids and their copy number in individual cells. Stable multiplasmid systems can be difficult to maintain and study, in part because low copy number plasmids can be lost as cells multiply. By creating a series of constructs with different promoters and regulatory proteins for plasmid copy number, Team Vilnius-Lithuania generated a standardized system for expressing multiple plasmids at specific copy numbers within single cells. The SynORI BioBricks parts can be used to coordinate expression of multiple genes for generation of large multiprotein complexes, or to recreate or modify protein pathways. They also serve as reagents for other synthetic biology projects.
Visit the Team Vilnius-Lithuania iGEM page to learn more about their research and results.
Team Munich (Figure 2)
Figure 2. Team Munich. Team Munich was the first runner-up in the overgrad section of iGEM 2017. In addition to 8 other nominations, this team received 5 awards: Best Diagnostics Project, Model, Applied Design, Software Tool, and Hardware.
CascAID+, the Team Munich project, was to designed to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics by creating an inexpensive, point-of-care, in vitro diagnostic (IVD) device. The device identifies viral and bacterial pathogens, and also can help determine which antibiotic may be required, if any. Team Munich developed a sample processing unit that employs heat lysis and isothermal PCR, a reaction unit that includes a paper-based assay based on CRISPR genome editing, a portable detection unit for fluorescence measurements, and software for data analysis.
The pathogen-detection assay uses Cas13a enzyme, pathogen-specific crRNAs, and RNaseAlert® Substrate (available from IDT). The assembled Cas13a:crRNA ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex has nonspecific RNA cleavage activity when the RNP binds to its target RNA, present in specific pathogens. The RNaseAlert Substrate serves as the reporter module, where cleavage by activated Cas13a results in fluorescent signal emission.
"Integrated DNA Technologies is one of the largest manufacturers of oligonucleotides in the world, offering also solutions in genome editing, gene synthesis and sequencing. IDT is a reliable partner for oligo-synthesis and, thanks to its vast expertise and experience, delivers a high-quality product in record time. Many of our cloning and sequencing primers were synthesized by them and without their help, this project would not have been possible.”
– iGEM 2017 Team Munich
Visit the Team Munich iGEM page to learn more about their research and results.
Team AshesiGhana (Figure 3)
Figure 3. Team AshesiGhana. This postgraduate group, Team AshesiGhana, was the first team from Ghana to enter an iGEM competition. Their conduct and acheivements earned them the Chairman’s Award for the best representation of the 8 core iGEM values, including integrity, respect, cooperation, and excellence.
AshesiGhana’s pioneering project applied synthetic biology methods to address the environmental contamination and destruction resulting from unregulated gold mining. Tainted soil and water adversely affect the health of both miners and nearby inhabitants, and in some areas have even decreased needed food production. The team developed a “bio-mining” strategy that relies on bacteria capable of liberating gold from ore, while surviving mining conditions. The system not only quantifies the amount of gold in the ore, but also eliminates the use of toxic chemicals (e.g., mercury).
Visit the Team AshesiGhana iGEM page to learn more about their research and results.
2017 student successes
Congratulations to all the participating and award winning iGEM 2017 teams. If you would like to read about other innovative projects completed for iGEM 2017, visit the 2017 results page.
We look forward to attending the iGEM Giant Jamboree in October to find out how the 2018 projects progressed. The enthusiasm and energy of the teams are inspiring and infectious. To learn more about the competition, teams, and organizer, visit the iGEM 2018 Competition web pages.