Spotlight on geekStarters: UAlberta iGEM Team

Postcard from Edmonton! University of Alberta iGEM team members in favorite photo collage

Meet the 2017 Collegiate iGEM team from University of Alberta in Edmonton, and learn about them and their project from this recent interview they gave us.

We have nine undergraduate students from both engineering and science. There are both senior and first year students on the team, and this brings a wide variety of perspectives to the table. However, we all share a common interest for synthetic biology. Our most memorable moment to date would have to be our night out in Calgary before the iGEM kickoff meeting.

Our team is very passionate about food… particularly all-you-can-eat sushi! We also have a group chat so we can stay connected, or more realistically, so we can send memes to each other and go off on random discussions about life.

We use social media to connect to other iGEM teams, set up potential collaborations, and most importantly for checking out memes. Once our social media presence is further developed, we would like to utilize it as part of our community outreach.

We are attempting to engineer bacteria to select for and optimize protein-based drugs for the treatment of cancer using a buoyancy-based screening system. Favourable protein-protein interactions will trigger the production of gas vesicles, and the cells’ buoyancy can be used to screen and optimize the cancer drugs using a process called directed evolution. Once successful, we hope to automate this process.

Acquiring a new lab space dedicated to iGEM and setting things up has been lots of fun! Extra special thanks to the Faculty of Engineering for providing us with space, MBSU for lending us equipment and the Faculty of Science for covering the cost of iGEM registration!

As an enthusiastic team, we get many creative ideas that lead to differing directions and viewpoints. Since time is limited, one of the challenges is deciding which ideas are worth pursuing. For more concrete challenges, nothing can possibly top the challenge of trying to clone the full eleven genes needed for our project into a single plasmid.

Our team is really looking forward to hosting aGEM at the University of Alberta, as well as being able to meet with other teams from around the world at iGEM. We also really look forward to cloning the eleven genes into a single plasmid.

By the end of the season, we hope to have a proof of principle experiment to show that our screening system is viable. Additionally, while we all joined iGEM due to an interest in synthetic biology, we all have other personal motivations for joining (e.g., get more comfortable with public speaking, learning how to code HTML or program in MATLAB). By the end, we hope that all of us have achieved, or at least gotten closer to achieving, these goals.

We would like to use our developed system for directed evolution and development of protein based therapeutics. Hopefully, our system may also be useful for other researchers around the world and we hope that our project will be able to help other labs in their endeavors. We also hope that interest and enthusiasm for iGEM at the U of A continues to grow in the future.