UGA iGEM team wins gold at international synthetic biology competition

iGEM teamThe University of Georgia’s iGEM—International Genetically Engineered Machine—team won a gold medal and was runner-up for the best measurement project award at the 2015 iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston, Massachusetts.

iGEM is an annual international collegiate synthetic biology competition originated byMIT. The 2015 event included 280 iGEM teams and more than 2,700 attendees from across the globe. The competition seeks to promote synthetic biology research awareness and collaborations to develop practical solutions for the real world. The teams are judged on their research novelty, impact toward real world solutions, outreach, collaborations and more.

The gold medal in 2015 is the culmination of focused efforts by UGA students and instructors. Prior to its success this fall, the UGA iGEM team won a silver medal at the2013 North American Regional Jamboree and took bronze at the 2014 Giant Jamboree.

The 2015 UGA iGEM team included 16 undergraduates from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, led by Rebecca Buchanan, studying biochemistry and molecular biology. Undergraduates attending the jamboree were Hirel Patel, chemistry; Steven Kodish, biomedical engineering; and John Buchanan, biology, as well as instructors Narendran Sekar, a doctoral student in biological and agricultural engineering, and Zhe Lyu, a postdoctoral research associate in microbiology.

Participants unable to attend the jamboree included Walter Asencios and Akshay Chandora, biology; and Lucas Bougang and Anjana Kumar, biochemistry and molecular biology. Instructors and advisers included William B. Whitman, a professor of microbiology; Yajun Yan, associate professor of engineering; and Rachit Jain, a doctoral student in the College of Engineering.

“It has been a great experience to work with this talented group of men and women,” Whitman said. “The iGEM team is a terrific opportunity for students at UGA to exchange ideas, practice science and learn about synthetic biology. Their awards this year were well deserved and the result of real team effort.”

UGA’s iGEM team worked to establish the feasibility of synthetic biology research in archaea. Archaea have not been as extensively studied as many of the traditional organisms such as E. coli and yeast, but offer many potential opportunities and uses. The team’s achievements include designing, building and testing a library of ribosome binding site sequences for varying protein expression level in Methanococcus maripaludis; creating an archaeal collaboration study to obtain community data for in-depth analysis, which was joined by eight other iGEM university teams across U.S.; and using metabolic flux analysis to model the production of geraniol, a high-value chemical, and biomass.

“I have had the privilege of being part of the iGEM team for two years now and leading the team this year with the close guidance of our post-doctorate adviser Zhe Lyu,” said Buchanan, who is from Carrollton and will graduate in May with dual degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology and cellular biology. “Being a part of the team has provided me with a unique undergraduate experience and valuable tools and insights into the methods and practices of synthetic biology. Winning the gold medal this year meant a lot to our team after all of our hard work over the past years.”

Writer: Alan Flurry

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