Biochemical Engineering

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Synthetic Biology success for UCL Engineering at the 2015 iGEM competition.

iGEM logo

UCL enjoyed success at the 2015 International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Synthetic Biology competition in Boston, USA. This year's UCL team, 'Mind the Gut' developed synthetic biology tools to in future design and build probiotic bacteria capable of sensing and modifying mood to address mental illness. The project involved a microfluidic mimic of the gut and investigating the challenges of commercialising mood-altering probiotics. 

A team of ten UCL undergraduates drawn from three UCL faculties was supported by Biochemical Engineering doctoral students Jose Henriques Morales and, from the Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) in Bioprocess Engineering Leadership, Roberto Chioccio (EngD in partnership with AM Technology) and Thomas Johnson (EngD in partnership with Pall). The Mind the Gut team won a Gold Medal plus Best Supporting Entrepreneurship Award as well being nominated for the 'Best Composite BioBrick' award.

iGEM is an annual student synthetic biology competition which started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2004. Since its inception iGEM has grown from five participating US universities into an international competition spanning over 250 universities from across the world.

UCL Biochemical Engineering staff have hosted UCL iGEM teams since 2009, harnessing the department's unique position as a centre of excellence in whole bioprocessing (from upstream cell engineering to downstream unit operations) to provide cutting-edge bioscience and rigorous engineering training at the newly-refurbished Bernard Katz building.

This year UCL Faculty of Engineering Science again supported UCL participation in iGEM as well as supporting collaborations with iGEM teams from the London BioHackspace, based in Hackney, East London and the first ever iGEM team from Birkbeck, University of London. Dr Darren N. Nesbeth (UCL Biochemical Engineering) coordinated the team's efforts, with Dr Stephanie Braun (UCL Biochemical Engineering), Dr Vitor Pinheiro (Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology - UCL, Birkbeck), Prof John Ward (UCL Biochemical Engineering) and Dr Chris Barnes (Research Department of Cell and Developmental Biology).

Read more about the 'Mind the Gut' project and the iGEM competition.

Pulmonary Cell News - Top Story

Research published on the use of silk-based drug carriers in the use of cancer treatment makes top story in Pulmonary Cell News.  The article, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, draws on collaborative research conducted between the Department of Biochemical Engineering and institutions in Australia, India and the Republic of Korea.  Dr Ivan Wall is one of the corresponding authors on the paper ‘Formulation of Biologically-Inspired Silk-Based Drug Carriers for Pulmonary Delivery Targeted for Lung Cancer’, which first appeared in Scientific Reports online on 3 August.

The full article is available to read here.  Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 11878 (2015)  doi:10.1038/srep11878

Carlotta Peticone - UCL Advances PhD Enterprise Scholarship

Carlotta Peticone, a PhD student in Ivan Wall’s lab, has been awarded a UCL Advances PhD Enterprise Scholarship. The funding, worth £4000, enables her to undertake a commercial evaluation of her research. Carlotta’s PhD project is entitled ‘Phosphate Bioactive Glass Microcarriers for the Production of Vascularized Tissue Engineered Micro-Units for Bone Regeneration’ and focuses on the use of bioactive phosphate glass for bone regeneration.

Engineers Without Borders

Postgraduate student Tania Chilima talks about her experience with Engineers Without Borders.  Based in the UK, she helped support a project delivering potable water to the community of Sepe Tiaraju, Brazil.

Read Tania's story here.

Engineers Without Borders website

Microalgae dining at Shuffle Festival

As part of Shuffle Festival James Lawrence and Mike Sulu ran a hands-on making session for GCSE students from schools in Tower Hamlets. The aim of the session was for students to work together to build a bunch of different kinds of airlift reactors for cultivating Spirulina bacterium. The reactors built were used as an installation in the Symbiosis Restaurant during the Shuffle Festival, which served a range of science-inspired dishes, including Spirulina itself.

Shuffle Festival took place from 24 July - 1 August at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

Alma Antemie wins British Council Scholarship

Congratulations to Alma Antemie, a doctoral student within the department, who has been awarded the British Council - Fujian Scholarship, part of the Generation UK initiative.

Alma will spend five months in Fujian province, China, at Fujian Normal University.  The programme includes an intensive programme of Mandarin language learning, as well as opportunities to learn about China's culture, economy and business environment.

Generation UK-China is a British Council campaign that aims to boost the number of UK students participating in study abroad and internship programmes in China. 

Mike Jenkins wins 2015 IChemE Ashok Kumar Fellowship

Mike Jenkins

Mike Jenkins has been awarded the 2015 IChemE Ashok Kumar Fellowship. Mike, who is currently in the 3rd year of his EngD with Pfizer, will undertake a three month placement in the the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Mike says “This is a great opportunity for me to both learn about and engage in the process by which cutting edge research in the STEM subjects is dealt with by policy and debate at a parliamentary level. I also look forward to furthering my ability to disseminate scientific concepts to a non-specialist audience." Professor Gary Lye, Director of the UCL CDT in Bioprocess Engineering Leadership, says "Mike is the third of our doctoral students to win the Ashok Kumar Fellowship since its inception in 2011. This not only demonstrates the quality of our students but also their holistic understanding of the impact of science and engineering on society".

Phytofutures start-up win at IBLF Awards

Congratulations to Dr Brenda Parker, whose spin-out company ‘Phytofutures’ was awarded the IBLF Award for Innovation in Technology Development at February’s IBLF Awards ceremony. The Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum (IBLF) is an industry led and Government sponsored initiative to drive a bio-economy in the UK.

The Awards ceremony was held on 12 February, following a two day showcase of innovative companies and new technologies held at the QEII Conference Centre in London.

Phytofutures was set up with Dr Parker’s former colleagues at Cambridge and focuses, amongst other things, on the use of algae for bioremediation, recycling and upgrading valuable nutrients.

New Atlantis

New Atlantis Tarit

The New Atlantis immersive theatre project, from LAS Theatre, held its week-long run in January at The Crystal, Royal Docks.  During this time volunteers from our department collectively communicated to over 800 adults and 230 school children about the work of biochemical engineers. Feedback from the audience rated our ‘Industry’ team as the best performers of all three science groups involved – well done!

'New Atlantis' coverage on the BBC News: Scientists take to the stage on climate change

Further information about the project can be found at:

The Accidental Biochemical Engineer

IChemE guest blog by Dr Tarit Mukhopadhyay

Page last modified on 05 oct 15 15:53