Macquarie takes home gold in premier iGEM synthetic biology competition in Boston

10 November 2016

  • Macquarie undergraduate team take home gold at iGEM competition in Boston
  • Their winning project aims to engineer bacteria that can produce hydrogen gas

A group of Macquarie’s undergraduate students have taken home a gold medal in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Giant Jamboree competition held in Boston, Massachusetts.

Competing against 300 other teams from around the globe, three of which were also from Australia, the Macquarie students won a gold medal once again, having brought home gold medals during previous competitions.

The competition is a premier event in the field of synthetic biology, with a long history of involving students and the public in developing the field. The project from the Macquarie team titled “Chlorophyl II: Return of the Hydrogen” tackled the biological challenge of producing hydrogen gas using bacteria.

“Our first goal was to synthetically engineer E.coli bacteria to produce chlorophyll – the molecule in plants that allows them to absorb energy from light –  as the production of chlorophyll in organisms like E.coli has not yet been successful,” said team member Astrid Bennett.

“We then wanted to synthetically construct 17 genes in these E.coli that would help these bacteria convert light energy into chemical energy in order to generate oxygen and electrons. We planned to use these generated electrons to help produce hydrogen gas within the bacteria with the help of an enzyme,” she added.

The team of 40 has been praised by members of the University, with Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Sakkie Pretorius commending the students on their achievement.

“They’ve done it again,” commented Professor Pretorius about the CBMS330 Biomolecular Capstone students from the Department of Biomolecular Sciences who competed in Boston. “Three years in a row winning GOLD at iGEM, it’s amazing but not surprising. Next year I have high expectations.”

“I wish to congratulate all the student team members of Macquarie’s iGEM team. And, of course, a special word of thanks to all the team advisors and mentors, in particular, Louise Brown, Robert Willows, Thi Huynh and Edward Moh.”

Participants in the iGEM program are also involved in outreach and education, allowing students to develop not only their technical and project design skills but also their science communication skills for the future.

More information can be found about Macquarie’s “Chlorophyl II: Return of the Hydrogen” entry in the team’s wiki

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