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Cardiff University students win gold at global science competition

16 November 2018

Students receiving award
Cardiff iGEM team members, Ryan Coates and Emily Heath, with the award for Best Plant Synthetic Biology. (Photo courtesy of the iGEM Foundation and Justin Knight)

A group of students from Cardiff University have won a gold medal and major award at an international science competition which aims to find new applications for synthetic biological systems.

Competing in the 2018 International Genetically Engineering Machine competition (iGEM) competition, the Cardiff team – comprised of Ryan Coates, Emily Heath, Sophie Thomas, Hannah Elliott, Lily Thomas, Ali Tariq, and Evangeline McShane – were recognised for their novel approach to controlling and reducing crop insect pests.

The group focused specifically on reducing aphid predation of crops, using a method called RNA interference to disrupt the symbiotic relationship between aphids and a special type of bacteria that live in their gut. The aim of the project was to generate genetically modified plants that negatively affect the birth rate of aphids that feed on the plants.

The students started to work on their project in the spring semester, working in the labs within the Sir Martin Evans building to conduct the research, analyse their data, and prepare for the final conference in the USA.

After a summer spent honing their design and carrying out public engagement activities, the cross-disciplinary team – with students from the School of Biosciences, School of Chemistry and School of Mathematics - 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 awarded the group’s research project a gold medal (the first ever for a Cardiff iGEM team), as well as the award for Best Plant Synthetic Biology Project.

The Cardiff team was brought together and supervised by Dr Geraint Parry, a plant cell biologist in the School of Biosciences. The initiative was funded and supported by the School of Biosciences, School of Chemistry and CUROP within Cardiff University, which supplied four studentships for summer research.

Commenting on the team’s success, Dr Parry said,

“'Becoming the first ever Cardiff team to win gold at the iGEM competition is an outstanding achievement, and it is testament to the hard work and commitment of everyone involved. “

“Cardiff University has a strong reputation for the quality of its research and is committed to providing students with opportunities to carry out hands-on research that has real-life applications. The iGEM competition offers the perfect opportunity for students to hone their critical thinking, engagement skills, and practical research abilities – all of which will stand them in good stead in their post-university career.”

I am now recruiting our iGEM team for 2019, and we welcome students from any subject area to take part.”

For more information on participating in iGEM please contact Dr Geraint Parry.

Find out more about the Cardiff iGEM team’s project.

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