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25 January 2006
The University of Cambridge iGEM team for 2005
James Brown and Chris Field, fourth year students and Eva Cheng, a third year student here at the Department are part of a team from the University of Cambridge that took part in the first international Intercollegiate Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Dr Jorge Goncalves and Dr Glenn Vinnicombe, of the Information Engineering Division, were part of the team of instructors on the project. The event attracted students from all over the world to design and build machines made entirely from biological components such as genes and proteins. The Cambridge team worked on making a circuit that could control the movement of Escherichia coli bacteria. They aimed to engineer the bacteria to contain a switch governing their sensitivity to the sugar maltose. With the switch off, the microbes would ignore the sugar. Tripping the switch would make the bacteria sensitive to the sugar and induce them to move towards it.
The competition encourages the science of ‘synthetic biology’, which is a merger of life sciences and engineering. As the University of Cambridge students’ brochure for the competition explains:
“The core idea is that by drawing on knowledge developed from biology, and applying principles used in engineering design and production, it is now possible to create bio-synthetic systems to achieve novel applications with unprecedented power and efficiency."
“This research could lead us to a greater understanding of how life functions and how to use more effectively the very fabric from which it is created – DNA, proteins and cells. The possibilities of this technology are almost endless.”
The iGEM competition has recently been featured in the journal Nature Synthetic biology: Designs on life, Erika Check, Nature 438, 417 - 418 (2005).
More information about the University of Cambridge iGEM team and their work can be found on their website at: http://www.syntheticbiology.co.uk/
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