Platinum award for UCL synthetic biology competition student
12 January 2012
Thomas Deane, an A-level student and member of an interdisciplinary team from UCL, has been awarded an Exscitec Platinum Award for his work in the annual International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition in Amsterdam. Although Deane won the award, the achievement would not have been possible without the work of the rest of the UCL undergraduate iGEM team.
Supervised by Dr Darren Nesbeth (UCL Biochemical Engineering) the team of students – called ‘E. coili’ - set out to reduce the cost of manufacturing DNA medicines and gain valuable experience of research, public engagement and ethics.
Team member Alfred Ho, UCL Medical School, said: “iGEM was a great opportunity for me to see first hand the importance of research in the field of medicine. I also enjoyed meeting fellow students from all over the UK and Europe.”
With Plasmid DNA becoming increasingly important as a therapeutic in genetic vaccination and gene therapy, the E. coili team worked to modify the levels of special enzymes involved in the packaging of DNA in E. coli. This technology could ultimately be used in commercial plasmid DNA manufacturing, helping to boost productivity and quality while reducing production costs.
2011 has seen student-led synthetic biology at UCL take great strides
Dr Darren Nesbeth
Working throughout the summer, the team used the industrial biomanufacturing facilities at the Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering (ACBE) at UCL before heading off to the iGEM Europe event in Amsterdam in October. The team also organised two very successful public debates of the issues surrounding synthetic biology, at UCL's Haldane Room and the Science Museum’s Dana Centre, a purpose-built venue for events exploring topical issues in science.
Dr Nesbeth said: “2011 has seen student-led synthetic biology at UCL take great strides. Students from six UCL Departments, across four Faculties, along with A-level student Thomas Deane, came together to work hard and learn new skills. Alumni from this year's iGEM have founded the UCL Synthetic Biology Society which is already playing an active role in shaping and improving UCL's iGEM activities going forward.”
Oriana Losito, a PhD student in the Research Department of Structural and Molecular Biology, said: “iGEM gives the students a valuable chance to not only learn lab skills and experience a research environment but also to develop skills like team-work and communication.”