17 UK teams participating in the 2016 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition gathered for the annual pre-competition UK meet up at Westminster’s Marylebone campus.

More than 100 students from 17 universities across the UK met up at the Marylebone Campus from 17 – 18 August to present their projects and to practice their presentations before taking them to Boston this October.

iGEM is an annual synthetic biology competition which asks students to team up and design and present a research project within the field of synthetic biology. Last year, the University of Westminster’s team won gold, and are now working hard to defend their title.

For their 2016 project, Westminster’s team, Biolinics, headed by BSc Biochemistry graduates Camila Gaspar and Amritpal Singh and BSc Genetics graduate Paulina Brajer, are working towards genetically modifying E. coli bacteria to synthesise amino-levulinic acid (ALA). They chose to work with ALA as it has a diverse range of applications such as bio-herbicides and cancer treatments. 

By using an ubiquitous microorganism like E. coli it could allow for a more sustainable approach to the production of ALA when compared to the conventional high energy demanding, low yield approach that is used as standard today.  

Talking about the iGEM competition, team leader Camila Gaspar said: “’iGEM is a rich experience for undergraduates, you get to come up with and develop a research project in the lab over the summer. But iGEM goes beyond the lab work - judges expect the students to engage in human practice, such as getting involved with younger students and motivating them to study STEM subjects, to meet other teams across the world to collaborate, and to gain real world experience seeking external sponsorship and fundraising to cover project and travel expenses.

“I was in charge of organising the UK meet up and it was truly challenging and rewarding as I have never organised an event before, let alone a scientific conference for 100 people! With great help from Paulina, Tracey and the team as well as Students’ Union Vice-President for Cavendish, Ludovica, the event was a huge success and we received excellent feedback. 

“It has been an amazing experience with endless learning curves and is preparing me for the academic life. I’m confident these skills will come handy during my MRes and further to PhD.”

The meet up featured welcomes from iGEM supervisor Dr Anatoliy Markiv and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology Professor Jane Lewis. External guests also gave talks including three academics from UCL, Imperial College London and King's College London who gave short talks on their research, and academic guests from University of Edinburgh, UCL as well as industry representative from Synbiobeta and iGEM headquarters.  

The 2016 iGEM team, made up of Tracey Tran, Kamile Minkelyte, Maria Puiu, Hanna Sowar, Reza Sarwary, Abdikarim Ahmed, Abubaker Mohamed, Reema Ali and Abu Kabir, are currently fundraising to make their trip to the competition in the US this autumn. 

The event was supported by University of Westminster and The Quintin Hogg Trust.


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