27 November 2019

Engineering students win top project prize

​​​​Sheffield students have won the best project in their category at The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation competition.

Engineering students

An interdisciplinary 8-member team from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield successfully showcased their project OPENLUX at the annual iGEM Giant Jamboree. The team won gold for ‘Best Project in Track’ in their category. The competition is the synthetic biology industry’s largest innovation event hosted by the iGEM Foundation in Boston, US.

The iGEM Competition gives students the opportunity to push the boundaries of synthetic biology by tackling everyday issues facing the world.

Made up of primarily university students, multidisciplinary teams work together to design, build, test, and measure a system of their own design using interchangeable biological parts and standard molecular biology techniques. Every year nearly 6,000 people dedicate their summer to iGEM and then come together to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree.

The iGEM Competition gives students the opportunity to push the boundaries of synthetic biology by tackling everyday issues facing the world . iGEM combines biology, engineering, and entrepreneurship to contribute to the field of synthetic biology and tackle problems in areas, such as diagnostics, environment and manufacturing. Each year, the competition brings together more than 6,000 university participants from across the globe from 112 countries.

The team's OPENLUX is a learning kit for high school students that combines engineering, coding, and biology.  The still most used chassis in synthetic biology is bacteria. This means a lot of growth curves to confirm the viability of newly constructed strains that carry new plasmids that make them produce foreign proteins. This also means testing different enzyme reactions. This year, iGEM brought together 370 teams, many of which could not afford a microplate reader which is used to test the different enzyme reactions. The goal of OPENLUX was to address this high cost of testing and bring an absorbance-only microplate reader to more teams.

The cross-Faculty team was comprised of 8 students; 3 from Molecular Biology & Biotech (MBB), 2 from Bioengineering (IPO), 1 from Computer Science, 1 from Chemical & Biological Engineering (CBE), and 1 from Automatic Controls and Systems (ACSE). The team was led by an MBB final-year PhD student. The project lasted for 6 months, 2 of which were full-time lab work during the summer.

Computer Science students, Kassandra Yuen said;

“iGEM gave me an insight into a full engineering project from scratch. I got a chance to use my skills to develop a website for a real project which is seen by the whole world. I have also greatly improved my time management skills by maintaining a high-quality work under tight deadlines (wiki freeze). Perhaps the most rewarding thing was enhancing my teamwork skills, something useful in my future career. Despite being the only computer scientist on the team, I felt part of the team and I got to work closely with engineers and biologists”

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