A 10-member team of University of Alberta students, who call themselves the “Butanerds,” won first prize in the Energy and the Environment category at the fourth annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition held this past weekend at MIT.
The team has been working on manipulating E. coli to produce butanol by introducing the genes responsible for butanol production from Clostridium acetobutylicum (i.e. endogenous butanoate pathway) into E. coli. Furthermore, the team is working to increase E. coli’s tolerance to solvents such as butanol.
The process is still rather inefficient, and the team is working with computer models to see how to increase production levels.
We haven’t gotten any further with our lab work [due to getting ready for the competition]. Hopefully, within the next month we’ll be producing butanol and we’ll have furthered our development of our computer modelling. It’s a very complex project.—Justin Pahara, senior team member
The grand prize “BioBrick”award went to a team from Peking University. The Chinese team was among 54 from around the world who came to the 2007 iGem Jamboree to present innovative research in synthetic biology with projects that ranged from “Bactoblood” (a bioengineered alternative to human blood) to a “vitrotrap” that defended cells against HIV infection to an “Artificial Bio-Logic Circuit.”
The grand prize-winning team from Peking impressed judges with their construction of a bacterial assembly line with spatial and temporal differentiation. Ultraviolet radiation was used as a turn on/turn off switch and cells were designed to signal each other in proscribed ways. Team members said the process could have medical and engineering applications.
Participants in iGem participants are given a toolkit and “BioBricks,” or bits of DNA from the MIT-based Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Each year, more BioBricks become available as the iGem teams add their creations to the stockpile.