August 22nd, 2019

Student teams earn recognition

By Mabell, Dave on June 10, 2019.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

Two of the city’s “synthetic biology” teams are earning credit where it counts.

A team from the University of Lethbridge earned research money in a recent competition, while members of a collaborative high school group received the “Best Potential Impact” award at a recent event in Canmore.

Recognizing that diabetes affects about eight per cent of the world’s population – while the price of insulin is soaring – the U of L team is aiming at “democratizing” its production as an oral alternative in recombinant micro-algae.

The group’s project designs have been validated by GeekStarter, an organization that promotes events like iGEM – the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition. It awarded the Lethbridge team $2,000 for demonstrating the think-design-test cycle for “lean startups.”

The U of L entry was also one of 10 teams at the recent iGEM event to receive an Opentrons OT-2 Pipetting robot worth $10,000, to be used to improve its measurement standards.

Team members hope to continue that success through the season as they demonstrate their project’s value through various “wet-lab” experiments and participation in the 2019 iGEM Jamboree.

The Lethbridge high school team presented its project as part of the GeekStarter 2019 High School Jamboree in Canmore. Team members Shada Aborawi, Rachel Avileli, Thomas Byrne, and Elisha Wong – all first-year iGEM participants – brought home the “best potential” award.

Its project will use synthetic biology to help fight the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. The plan is to develop a rapid diagnostic device to help identify bacterial pathogens, which could lead to more specific antibiotic prescriptions.

“I love the interdisciplinary aspect of iGEM,” says Linda He, in Grade 10 at Chinook High.

“I get to learn ‘wet lab’ skills, coding skills, and marketing skills but I also get to talk to people in our community, experts in the field, and work as a team.”

iGEM is now the largest synthetic biology community and the premiere synthetic biology competition for both university and high school students. It seeks to inspire learning and innovation in synthetic biology through education, competition and by maintaining an open library of standard biological parts – the Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

Combining molecular biology techniques with engineering concepts, students work in interdisciplinary teams to create new biological systems.

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