A project based on using marine organisms to collect plastic pollution has scooped UCL its best ever result in the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition. After months of work in the lab, on their website and with public engagement events, the 2012 UCL iGEM team ‘Plastic Republic’ were the only UK university ranked among the so-called ‘Sweet Sixteen’ top teams in the global synthetic biology competition, and received the award for best presentation.
Students entering the competition are required to build biological systems to solve problems of their choice using standard genetic components, or ‘biobricks’, and contribute custom biobricks of their own to the database of parts. The World Championships held last weekend at MIT in Boston gathered over 70 teams for the final stage of the competition, which assesses the students’ work for scientific merit, quality of work produced, clarity of communication, and interactions with the public, among other qualities. The UCL team, called ‘Plastic Republic’, were recognised for their innovative fundraising efforts, which included online ‘crowd-funding’ of virtual real estate, and excellence in communicating the underlying science of their project.
Dr Darren N. Nesbeth (UCL Biochemical Engineering) supervised the UCL team and was one of the handful of European supervisors appointed to the iGEM World Championships Judging Committee. Dr Nesbeth commented:
“This year’s team has worked incredibly hard and it is great to see all their efforts being recognised by this award and their global top 16 status. Four years participation in iGEM has cemented UCL’s reputation as a centre for Synthetic Biology teaching and research and I encourage the UCL community to help make next year’s team even better.”
Philipp Boeing, team member and student in UCL Computer Science, said:
“This is a fantastic result and a great step up from last year. We’re very proud of where we came – not just as the highest-ranked team from the UK, but also for reaching the hard-battled “sweet sixteen” category from the world wide community of almost 200 teams. It’s great to have the improvements we’ve made in organizing iGEM at UCL and opening up synthetic biology to the student community recognised. Now we’re looking to build on this, and do even better next year!”