Silver award for science students
17 November 2016
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..."
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..."
Recruitment for next year’s iGEM team is now open. Interested parties should contact Dr Geraint Parry.