Gold Medal for STSers in Synthetic Biology at MIT Competition
18 November 2010
An interdisciplinary team of UCL students and academic advisors involving the Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) department has won a gold medal at the premier annual synthetic biology competition organised by MIT in Boston last week.
The UCL team entering this year’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition included students from Biochemical Engineering, Biochemistry, and even Visual Arts backgrounds – while Dr Jane Gregory and Dr Simon Lock from STS offered their expertise on Ethics, Outreach and Science Communication matters.
The project required a ‘big-picture’-approach from all participants. In addition to creating a novel idea in biochemical engineering (together with the planning, modelling and laboratory work realisation entails), they were expected to think in terms of human practices, ethical dilemmas, public outreach and the professional presentation of achievements. A Website was created, and the team made a presentation in the competition in Boston.
Far from being solely an undergraduate competition, iGEM plays a significant role in building and consolidating the scientific community in synthetic biology. Parts or ‘biobricks’ developed for team projects are added to a universal Registry of Parts accessible to all those working in the field, while the Jamboree in Boston provides an incomparable opportunity of networking for a budding generation of scientists – making the International Genetically Engineered Machine a lot more than just a fun summer project.
During five months of hard work, the UCL group - Team ‘Hypoxon’ - developed the concept of ‘self-inducing’ cells, demonstrating the idea on E.coli bacteria producing green fluorescent proteins. Introduction of a self-triggering cell to the process of pharmaceuticals production could significantly reduce costs by allowing for the omission of expensive ‘promoter’ chemicals and the reduction of working hours spent on the currently necessary human supervision.
Besides the execution of the biochemical engineering processes, the team also engaged in public outreach activities such as getting UCL students interested and involved during the UCL Open Day and Freshers’ Fayre, and organising events with the Debating Society. They also needed to find ways to collaborate with other iGEM teams and raise awareness amongst potential sponsors.
The team was formed in May and started meeting on a regular weekly basis from the beginning of June until the Jamboree held November 6-8, 2010.
Participating members were James Brown (Biochemistry 2nd year), Mariam Awlia (Biochemistry 2nd year), Elena Pallari (Biochemical Engineering Graduate), Omar El Saidi (Biochemical Engineering 3rd year), Ali-Albazergan Ali (Biochemical Engineering with Bioprocess Management 4th year), Arif Abed (Biochemical Engineering 4th year), Carolina Moujaes (Biochemical Engineering 4th year), Xiang Chen (Biochemistry Masters), Veronika Raszler (Science and Technology Studies 3rd year), David Bennett (designer, with foundations in Structural Engineering), and Giulia Ricci (visual artist). Dr Eli Keshavarz-Moore and Dr Darren Nesbeth acted as academic advisors from the Biochemical Engineering department.
Article written by Veronika Raszler (STS 3rd year)