Seven students representing Cambridge were awarded the Grand Prize at MIT’s iGEM competition on November 2nd.

The international Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) was attended by 112 different teams comprising 1700 students in all. Teams came from universities in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, and the US.

Competitors in the iGEM competition are charged with “conceiving, designing and implementing a synthetic biological system using standard, interchangeable DNA parts or ‘BioBricks’ and operating it in living cells.”

The members of the successful Cambridge team were Mike Davies, Shuna Gould, Siming Ma, Vivian Mullin, Megan Stanley, Alan Waldbridge, and Crispian Wilson. Their advisors were Jim Ajioka, Jim Haselhoff, Gos Micklem, James Brown, Tom Ellis, and Duncan Rowe.

They won not only the Grand Prize, but also came first in the Environment Track.

Their project involved the creation of cheap distributable biosensors that could be used to detect heavy metals through visible colour output. Their findings could potentially be applied, for instance, to help detect quantities of elements like arsenic in third-world water supplies.

The team has been featured prominently in the American news media since their win on November 2nd. Vivian Mullin was interviewed live on National Public Radio (NPR) last Friday, and the entire team was asked to take part in two photo shoots for an upcoming feature in The New York Times Magazine.

iGEM started out as a month-long course module for MIT students in January 2003. Over the past several years it has become more and more prestigious. Now internationally recognised, the competition requires students to use a set of “biological parts”, given to them at the beginning of the summer vacation, and combine them with items of their own design to “build biological systems and operate them in living cells.”

A team from Imperial College London finished in the top six, winning awards for both Best Manufacturing Project and Best Human Practices Advance.  Bristol’s team won the prize for Best Model.

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