Science students win two special prizes at the regional iGEM Jamboree

15 October 2013

The iGEM team from Sydney University (front) has advanced to the World Championships in November
The iGEM team from Sydney University (front) has advanced to the World Championships in November

The first University of Sydney synthetic biology team has taken out two special prizes at the regional iGEM Jamboree inHong Kong. The international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition brings students from around the globe together todesign and build biological systems and operate them in living cells.

The University of Sydney team was trying to build a pathway to degrade dichloroethane, a pollutant in the groundwater in Botany and elsewhere throughout the world. "We have been trying to assemble genes from different sources into a single, well-characterised operon, primarily using synthesised DNA with a sequence we've edited and optimised," said team-member Robbie Oppenheimer. "We're still working on it."

The two special prizes the team won were the Best BioBrick Measurement Approach, which recognized the team's safer, less wasteful way to determine if their engineered genes were being expressed, and the Best Human Practices. "This other prize was iGEM-speak for 'science communication', recognising that we'd started a science-writing competition for Australian high-school students." The writing competition was called strange nature and it asked students to answer the question: What problems will be caused or solved by synthetic biology?

At the regional jamboree the team was selected to advance to the World Championships at MIT, Boston. "We are now busy in the lab, judging our writing competition and trying to find some financial assistance in the meantime (as well as our normal full-time load!)," exclaimed Robbie. "I've learned more with iGEM than any other project or subject at university. It has been thrilling to work closely with like-minded peers on a project of your own design, and it was inspiring to be surrounded by hundreds of intelligent, passionate iGEMers at the jamboree."

This year they were supervised by Dr Nick Coleman (School of Molecular Biosciences), and supported financially by the Dean of Science, the Schools of Biological Sciences, Molecular Bioscience and Medical Sciences, as well the DVC (Research) and DVC (Education).

Good luck at the World Championships - go Team Sydney Uni!