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IIDR-Supervised McMaster Students Awarded Bronze Medal at International Synthetic Biology Competition

iGEM Team 2 members, Adree Khondker and Peter Zeng within Dr. Zeinab Hosseini-Doust’s Biohybrids Lab.

After countless nights of brainstorming and troubleshooting, hard work finally paid off for McMaster iGEM Team 2, who was awarded a bronze medal at this year’s International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Giant Jamboree held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

iGEM is the world’s largest undergraduate biology competition, inviting over 300 multi-disciplinary student teams from around the world to devise synthetic biological solutions to common problems in research or society.

McMaster iGEM Team 2 employed the interdisciplinary skills of mathematical modeling, engineering, and molecular biology to design a ‘bacterial cancer treatment’ – a bacterium capable of detecting and destroying a cancerous tumor, and subsequently self-destructing to prevent bacterial overgrowth.

The team further applied these skills and techniques to collaborate with Oxford University on the construction of a point of care diagnostic tool for Chagas Disease. Over the course of their work, the team contributed 7 BioBricks for the iGEM library – an open access, standardized repository of genes with convenient application to genetic engineering projects. Further, the students gave back to the local community by offering experiential-learning opportunities to supplement the elementary school science curriculum, while holding university-wide events. Overall, the team was able to engineer low cost, replicable, and sound approaches to otherwise expensive experimental protocols. “We are simply taking advantage of the tools offered by nature to engineer cells to carry out a certain function” stated iGEM Team 2 member, Adree Khondker. The judges praised the dedication, innovation, and creativity of the team’s research process.

With the help of supervisors Dr. Zeinab Hosseini-Doust (Chemical Engineering, Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research) and Dr. Maikel Rheinstadter (Physics and Astronomy), the team conducted their experiments in the newly constructed Origins of Life Lab and Biohybrids Lab at McMaster. The work would not be possible without the generous funding of industry and academic sponsors, particularly from Sanofi Genzyme, GenScript, IDT DNA and the McMaster Faculty of Engineering.

Inspired by the sheer potential of synthetic biology and the work of other teams, the group is already excited to get started on a new project for 2018. “We are very ambitious about competing for the grand prize this upcoming year” stated Peter Zeng, team co-captain and student within Dr. Matthew Miller’s research group. “We are hoping to have a project that bridges biological, electrical, and software engineering.”

For more information about McMaster iGEM Team 2 and their project, contact Peter Zeng at zengy10@mcmaster.ca.

McMaster iGEM Team 2 was awarded a bronze medal for their work on cancer therapy at this year’s annual iGEM competition in Boston, MA.