Best Project Prize for the UofG iGEM Team

Issued: Thu, 30 Nov 2017 10:19:00 GMT

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From 10-12 November, over six thousand university and high school students gathered in Boston at the iGEM 2017 Giant Jamboree, the world's premier synthetic biology competition showcasing innovative and responsible biologically-engineered solutions to real-world challenges.

Among them was the University of Glasgow iGEM team, which comprised seven Genetics students from the School of Life Sciences, two Biomedical Engineering students, and one student from Social Sciences. They worked for 12 weeks over the summer to deliver their synthetic biology project, which they presented to more than 300 other iGEM teams, and the to the judges, who awarded them the prize for best project prize in the category ‘Food and Nutrition’.

The Glasgow project was also shortlisted for Best Innovation in Measurement, Best Wiki, and Best Applied Design and Best Part Collection.

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The Glasgow project, ‘CampyLOCATOR’, was aimed at developing a genetically engineered biosensor to detect the presence of the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni, which is one of the most prevalent causes of food poisoning in the UK. The team has used technologies such as microfluidics and rapid prototyping to produce a biosensor that uses modified non-pathogenic E. coli bacteria to give a visual indication of the presence of Campylobacter.

The bulk of the team’s molecular biology work centred on producing a genetic circuit for E. coli to sense the presence of a rare sugar molecule (xylulose) on the surface of Campylobacter cells. The team utilised novel molecular biology techniques, and in keeping with the iGEM tradition, they documented these fully on their wiki for use by future iGEM teams and the wider community.

Campylobacter causes more cases of food poisoning in the UK than E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella put together. It can be spread easily, often from raw or undercooked chicken, or from contamination due to washing raw chicken, and just a few bacteria can cause illness.

‌‌The team also considered the social and ethical implications of their work. They engaged in activities to raise awareness on the nature of foodborne related diseases and how to prevent them. To build their activities, they established a dialogue with the Food Standards Agency‌, who estimated from research that most people don’t know about or don’t follow advice about handling and preparing raw chicken.

They delivered a two-day workshop at the Glasgow Science Centre and participated in the Explorathon at the Riverside Museum, using their mascot Henrietta (see photo) to interact with the public in a fun and engaging way. The project resulted in a policy brief that the students plan to publicise widely to raise awareness of the potential impact of Brexit on food safety.  

‌The team was supported by Dr Sean Colloms, Dr Julien Reboud, as well as PhD students James Provan, Jumai Abioye, and Katy Baker. For the first time in five years of participation, the Glasgow team was awarded the top prize for their project category, one of only 11 prizes, for which 313 teams were competing. This great result and their nominations for other, highly competitive prizes are a testament to the hard work and dedication they put in over the summer.

The project was supported by the Wellcome Trust, BBSRC, the IMechE, Society for Experimental Biology and the Microbiology Society.