Silver award for science students

17 November 2016

iGEM Team

A group of science students at Cardiff University are celebrating after their diagnostic test for common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) won a silver award at the internationally renowned iGEM competition.

Founded by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003, the iGEM competition encourages candidates to think about synthetic biology - the artificial engineering of biological systems - to find new uses for them in an academic, medical or industrial setting.

Using gene-editing technology linked to a firefly luciferase enzyme, the Cardiff group devised a diagnostic test that is designed to give a light output when it detects the presence of DNA from common STIs such as Chlamydia. Alongside designing the test itself, the team carried out interviews with experts in the field to investigate the ethical issues associated with the provision of STI home-testing kits.

After a summer spent honing their design and carrying out public engagement activities, the team – made up of two biomedical scientists, two geneticists, two chemists and a biologist – presented their project at the international iGEM jamboree in Boston where they competed against almost 300 other teams from around the world.

The iGEM judges were impressed with the work undertaken and awarded the team a Silver medal – a rare occurrence for a first-time iGEM team.

The Cardiff team was put together and supervised by Dr Geraint Parry, a plant cell biologist who works on the GARNet grant with Professor Jim Murray at Cardiff University.

Commenting on the team’s success, Dr Parry said: “This is the first time that a team from Cardiff has entered the iGEM competition and I am delighted that they have managed to secure a silver medal. As well as spending many hours in the lab over the summer, the team also put a lot of effort into consulting with experts and engaging with the general public – and these efforts have paid off..."

“What’s particularly great about the iGEM competition is that it is multidisciplinary. The project involves many aspects, from molecular biology through to modelling, engagement and web design, so there are opportunities for students studying all kinds of subjects.”

Dr Geraint Parry, Research Associate (GARNet co-ordinator)

Reflecting on the benefits of participating in iGEM, Laura Bird from the School of Biosciences, said: “I applied for iGEM because it sounded like a great opportunity, to not only spend my summer gaining further experience in lab work, but also to communicate and work collaboratively with other international teams..."

"I have gained many skills during the project, including enhancing my knowledge of lab-based experiments, and science communication. Having the opportunity to present our project at the Giant Jamboree in Boston will improve our confidence and presenting skills, which will be a great benefit to our future careers.”

Laura Bird, School of Biosciences undergraduate

Recruitment for next year’s iGEM team is now open. Interested parties should contact Dr Geraint Parry.

Share this story

Biosciences male and female students laughing in lab

Our new Biosciences BSc courses

Find out more about the new BSc programme, discover what it can offer you and the benefits of studying this course.