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Cambridge iGEM 2009

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The engineering of new biological systems is an exciting frontier, with opportunities for collaboration between biologists, programmers and engineers. The iGEM competition throws together students from different disciplines, requires them to initiate a novel scientific programme over the summer, and challenges them to learn and share different skills. The competition has provided a new educational model in the exciting new field of Synthetic Biology. In Cambridge, we are unreservedly positive about the educational aspect of the competition. As well as learning challenging new scientific skills, the competition allows students to experience project brainstorming, management, teamwork, presentation and other organisational skills in a way that is essentially outside the undergraduate curriculum. The competition provides a powerful educational tool, exposing students to engineering challenges and a modern research environment, while in pursuit of their own goals. Based in the Department of Plant Sciences, the Cambridge 2009 iGEM team has spent the last 4 months designing, building and testing two kits of parts that will facilitate the design and construction of biosensors. Previous iGEM teams have focused on genetically engineering bacterial biosensors by enabling bacteria to respond to novel inputs, especially biologically significant compounds. There is an unmistakable need to also develop devices that can 1) manipulate input by changing the behaviour of the response of the input-sensitive promoter, and that can 2) report a response using clear, user-friendly outputs. The most popular output is the expression of a fluorescent protein, detectable using fluorescence microscopy. The team have successfully characterised a set of transcriptional systems for calibrated output (Sensitivity Tuners) and significantly expressed a spectrum of pigments in E. coli, designing a set of Colour Generators, for use in cheap, easily distributable biosensors across the globe.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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