It’s British Science Week 2015 and the University of Reading has deployed it’s iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team as part of their programme of events.
The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition. Student teams are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Working at their own schools over the summer, they use these parts and new parts of their own design to build biological systems and operate them in living cells.
Quite a change from the normal solo presenter format for Cafe Sci events – Jaroslaw Bryk brought along a handful of students from the iGEM team to talk about synthetic biology.
Team badge on the left shows engineering (the cog) electricity (the flash) from cyanobacteria (the blob).
Some great ideas were discussed, such as redirecting electron flow in cyanobacteria to improve the output of a biological photovoltaic cell (Reading’s entry to the competition) or constructing a fungus-killing soil bacteria to protect banana plants against Panama Disease (Wageningen University). Basically altering the genome of an organism without damaging it and in such a way that it starts doing what you want it to do. I liked the plan for BananaGuard (not to be confused with the yellow plastic fruit cases) to have a kill-switch that kicked in when the bacteria had created the required fungicide chemicals.
A healthy Q&A followed which gave the students exposure to a more sceptical, if not cynical, audience than they may have been used to.