UCL enjoyed success at the 2015 International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Synthetic Biology competition in Boston, USA. This year’s UCL team, ‘Mind the Gut’ developed synthetic biology tools to in future design and build probiotic bacteria capable of sensing and modifying mood to address mental illness. The project involved a microfluidic mimic of the gut and investigating the challenges of commercialising mood-altering probiotics.
A team of ten UCL undergraduates drawn from three UCL faculties was supported by Biochemical Engineering doctoral students Jose Henriques Morales and, from the Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) in Bioprocess Engineering Leadership, Roberto Chioccio (EngD in partnership with AM Technology) and Thomas Johnson (EngD in partnership with Pall). The Mind the Gut team won a Gold Medal plus Best Supporting Entrepreneurship Award as well being nominated for the ‘Best Composite BioBrick’ award.
iGEM is an annual student synthetic biology competition which started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2004. Since its inception iGEM has grown from five participating US universities into an international competition spanning over 250 universities from across the world.
UCL Biochemical Engineering staff have hosted UCL iGEM teams since 2009, harnessing the department’s unique position as a centre of excellence in whole bioprocessing (from upstream cell engineering to downstream unit operations) to provide cutting-edge bioscience and rigorous engineering training at the newly-refurbished Bernard Katz building.
This year UCL Faculty of Engineering Science again supported UCL participation in iGEM as well as supporting collaborations with iGEM teams from the London BioHackspace, based in Hackney, East London and the first ever iGEM team from Birkbeck, University of London. Dr Darren N. Nesbeth (UCL Biochemical Engineering) coordinated the team’s efforts, with Dr Stephanie Braun (UCL Biochemical Engineering), Dr. Vitor Pinheiro (Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology – UCL, Birkbeck), Prof. John Ward (UCL Biochemical Engineering) and Dr. Chris Barnes (Research Department of Cell and Developmental Biology).
Dr Nesbeth said:
” This year’s UCL iGEM team illustrates again what a great opportunity iGEM is for UCL undergraduates to gain research experience and avail themselves of the cutting edge facilities available in UCL Engineering and across the university. From microfluidics to mental health, this was a truly multidisciplinary adventure for the students and it was great to see all their hard work recognised at the iGEM finals event in Boston. “