iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) is an international synthetic biology student competition. Hosted by the MIT (Boston, MA) since more than 10 years, this competition, which attracts students from all around the world, promotes synthetic biology with strong ethics and safety commitments. 2018 edition featured 340 teams and 5790 team members.
Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new, standardized biological parts and devices, and getting them to do useful things. Parts are encoded using DNA and assembled either in a test tube or in living cells and then applied to deliver many different kinds of outcomes. This field combine engineering and biology skills to solve problems, in a respectful way regarding environment, ethics and safety. Students are tutored by researchers, PhDs or postdocs, and develop their own project (research, development, communication, sponsorships, ethics, …).
An international contest
iGEM started back in 2003. It was initially an MIT summer class, but became a competition on 2004. Since then, iGEM became the reference competition regarding synthetic biology projects, bringing together teams from more than 40 different countries.
iGEM IONIS on previous editions
Our team, mainly composed of students from Sup’Biotech, but also EPITA, Epitech, IPSA, IONIS STM, e-artsup and ESME Sudria, schools part of IONIS education group, 1st private education group in France.
Thanks to these diversified talents, our different teams were able to develop innovative technologies using synthetic biology during 2015, 2016 and 2017 iGEM editions.
BACT’MAN Adventures: Synthetic Biology for all
The project of the iGEM IONIS 2015 team has the aim to make the synthetic biology accessible for all. The team is a multidisciplinary team composed of the following IONIS schools: Sup’Biotech (Engineer school in Biotechnologies), Epita (Engineer school in IT), E-artsup (a school specialized in design). Thanks to this plurality, this team succeeded to conceive a video game, BACT’MAN Adentures, which allowed to promote synthetic biology.
The hero of the game is a bacterium that must avoid entering in contact with laser to survive. Indeed, the bacteria has been modified, thanks to synthetic biology:
- At the begin of the game, a bacterium is release with several vesicles. When bacteria received a light stimulation (laser), bacteria synthesized a protein, luciferase, which is a fluorescent protein. The vesicles are sensitive to the fluorescence emitted by the bacteria. They are fragilized and thus released toxins that will kill the bacterium.
- The end of the game leads to the death of the bacteria.
Quantifly, detecting pollution at the source
Air pollution has become over the years a true ecological and sanitary plague. Although pollution reduction is important, it is also necessary to be able to detect and quantify it in order to take proper actions.
Already used means of detection (chemical or physical) being considered as poorly efficient, the iGEM IONIS 2016 team, composed by student from Sup’Biotech, EPITA, EPITECH, IPSA, IONIS STM and e-artsup, has developed a new, more effective, biological system. It is specific to organic volatile compounds such as benzene or toluene.
Two main elements constitute their system:
- A biosensor: the utilisation of bacteria that are going to detect pollutant enabling the release of a light signal link to the concentration. Bacteria are modified with two gene found in two different species: Pseudomonas putida (detection protein, XylR) et Gaussia princeps (signal protein, Luciferase).
As shown below, XylR protein forms a complex with the pollutant. This complex allows then the expression of the luciferase.
- A drone: it is the mean of transport of the biological system which has to bring it directly where the pollutants are.
Thus, this new biological system allows the recovery of more specific and accurate data in fewer time.
This project was rewarded with a golden medal and several nominations such as best environment project.
Softer Shock, adapting plants
One of the many international tokens of France is definitely wine. Indeed, over the centuries French wine was able to impose itself as one of the most refined and known wine in the world. Wouldn’t be a shame to see such a patrimony? Unfortunately, with the climate changes we are experiencing today, winemakers are starting to notice a degradation of their exploitation and to produce wine of lesser quality. More and more frequent droughts and freezing are to be blame.
To answer to the distress of people whose survival is depending on the quality of their products, the iGEM IONIS 2017 team composed of students from Sup’Biotech, EPITA and e-artsup, has imagined the Softer Shock project.
The idea is to develop a biological thermosensitive solution allowing the reduction of plants thermal stress.
To fight at the same time the dreadful effects of droughts and freezing, Softer Shock is composed of 2 systems:
- Cold Shock: in this system the UP element is going to allow the transcription of the CspA promotor at low temperature (<15°C) inducing the expression of ice-binding proteins, thus reducing the formation of ice crystals.
- Heat Shock: the use of the pL promotor only active at temperature higher than 37°C. Its activation allows the expression of reflective proteins which is then inducing a cooling effect on the leaves.
To test the efficiency of their induction system, the team has used reporter genes: amilCP chromoprotein for Cold Shock and mRFP fluorescent protein for Heat Shock.
This project was rewarded with a golden medal and several nominations such as best food and nutrition project.