Spotlight on geekStarters: Notre Dame Collegiate Syn Bio Team

Recent photo of team mentor Emily Hicks and 6 of the 20 student team members in their school’s lab
Check out this recent interview with the synthetic biology team from Notre Dame Collegiate in High River, and learn about their plans for the 2017-18 season and beyond.
What is unique about your team? Any memorable moments?
Something that makes our team unique is that it has an age range of grades 7-12, and we built our own incubator from scratch last year using materials found at the Home Depot. Some of our favourite moments from the past few years include the iGEM lab workshops in Lethbridge, as well as the Jamboree that we hosted at our school last spring for synthetic biology and robotics teams to present their projects and get to know each other.
What is your team’s favorite fun activity? What’s something your team does to bond?
One way we bond as a team is by eating lunch together before our meetings start. This gives us time to share ideas and get to know each other better.
How does your team use social media?
Our team currently does not have a social media account, but we do plan to make an instagram and facebook account for 2018.
How would you describe your team’s project in 3 sentences or less?
We are currently researching two different ideas: plant antifreeze and breaking down fatbergs. Our fatberg bacteria would work to breakdown “fatbergs” that block drains and major sewage systems which is becoming problematic in many areas around the world. Our plant antifreeze bacteria would protect Alberta crops from flash frosts; this idea has been pursued by many teams so we are doing more research to see if there is any way we can change or improve past designs to be successful.
What has been one highlight of working on your project so far?
At the end of last year we ran our first successful gel electrophoresis in the lab. It was very satisfying to see the strands of DNA glow, knowing that our plasmid finally made it into our bacteria!
What is your team’s biggest challenge?
So far we have had difficulties in choosing a single project to go forward with. We have limited our choices to two different ideas, a bacteria that breaks down fat (fatbergs) and an antifreeze bacteria for crops.
We do not have access to specific equipment, so we have had to make it ourselves. Our do-it-yourself equipment hasn’t worked as well as we had hoped so we have had to make changes to improve their function. This year we purchased new parts to improve our designs, and so far, so good!
What does your team look forward to the most this season?
We are looking forward to completing a project from start to finish and, hopefully, we will be able to take our project to iGEM in 2018.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of this season?
Through improving research and lab skills we plan to finish our project, and benefit the people with the problem we try to resolve – whether that be Fatbergs or Antifreeze. Our team hopes to bring our project to iGEM 2018.
Where would you like to see your project go in the future? What are your team’s dreams for the future?
We would love to develop a working prototype that can be used by our target consumers.

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