A Celebration of Synthetic Biology

So, I’ve given up my summer to join a team of 9 other undergrads to compete in the iGEM (international Genetic Engineering Machine) competition.

From today, we have 179 days to imagine, design and create a synthetic organism before we present it at the regional qualifier in Amsterdam. If we win that, then we get to go on to the finals at MIT. Oh, and Imperial College have been finalists in the last couple of competitions, and won the Human Practices award for 2010. No pressure then.

Unlike a few members of the team, I have not done a course in Synthetic Biology and so my knowledge of the subject is limited to the few Nature articles I’ve read and the info on the iGEM website. This means that my mission from now until July is to educate myself, and by extension all of my readers, about this subject.

So what is Synthetic Biology?

Synthetic Biology is a relatively new subject that combines biology with engineering. It recently gained a lot of attention with Synthia, the first synthetic organism (well, not really. It was a synthetic genome that was transplanted into a natural cell), made at the J. Craig Venter Institute.

So, to explain more about what Synthetic Biology can do, and what exactly I’ll be doing this summer, here’s my Top 3 Projects from iGEM 2010:

1) Slovenia – Last year’s winners, well deserved in my opinion, for their ingenious use of DNA binding sites on proteins to construct an ‘assembly line’ of sorts so that biosynthesis of proteins is made more efficient.

2) Imperial College London – Yes, there’s some favouritism going on here, but their project was also very cool. A method of detecting the presence of Schistosoma parasites in water that won them the prize for Best Human Practices Advance.

3) BCCS-Bristol – These guys were the 2nd runners up for their project agrEcoli. They designed a very cool E. coli based sensor to test the fertility of soils used in agriculture.

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