By Robyn Hauck
The ability to work to tight deadlines and with an unusually small team has netted three University of Calgary students one of the top prizes in the prestigious international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Bachelor of health sciences students Vladislav Lavrovsky and Patrick King, and graduate student Sebastian von Mammen, from the evolutionary and swarm design laboratory in the Department of Computer Science, competed in this invitation-only competition that challenges students to be pioneers in a new science known as synthetic biology.
The Calgary team won the “best conquest of adversity” award. “We were still waiting for lab results as we were flying to Boston for the competition,” said Lavrovsky. “These experiments are incredibly difficult and time consuming, so we needed to work day and night to make them a success.”
Judges acknowledged the U of C students’ diligence and intelligence despite having a team of only three students—as opposed to the average of 10 students per team—and very little time to prepare for the competition.
Their project used genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to create art. The students manipulated the bacteria to produce chemical signals which appeared as fluorescent patterns. These patterns were used to produce paintings through computerized high-resolution drawings, a unique application of synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology will allow researchers to genetically engineer cells so they respond to commands and act like “living machines” inside cells. This kind of technology may one day give scientists the ability to program cells to manufacture and deliver drugs in the human body.
This was the first year MIT invited Calgary students to compete in the annual event. For more information on next year’s competition please contact Dr. Christian Jacob at email@example.com or visit http://obriencentre.org/iGEM?