There’s nothing like a winning tradition. Last year’s Gold Medal standing at the 2016 International Jamboree was Waterloo’s fourth straight annual win at a competition that attracts more than 270 teams from 42 countries.
“Last year was the fourth year in a row we achieved Gold Medal status at the International Jamboree, including an award for best scientific poster,” says Ayan Abukar, fourth-year Science student and Project Director for Waterloo iGEM 2016.
The 2017 competition is now open and Waterloo iGEM is looking to repeat their success once again with an Open House event this Saturday, January 28th from 3:00 to 5:00 pm in M3 1006.
"We had an amazing team last year, that consisted of students across nearly every faculty. Our supervisors were also some of our greatest mentors and supporters,” says Abukar. “It’s important to build a team with a diverse background that has individuals who bring their own drive, and Waterloo is a great place for that."
iGEM, which stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine, is an undergraduate synthetic biology competition with a cooperative flair. Every year teams from universities, high schools and community labs around the world design, develop and execute a project of their own within the field of synthetic biology.
The project is 100 per cent student directed, designed and carried out, with advisors to help with key knowledge and mentorship along the way. Not only does it involve lab work, but also mathematical modeling, and scientific policy and outreach.
"It’s a real hands-on learning experience,” says Abukar. “And it isn't just about laboratory experiments, but rather a comprehensive look at your project from all angles, including policy and public perception."
At the end of the project, teams post full project details on a Wiki page and submit any newly created biobricks which future teams can access for free.
“Due to the tedious nature of science, pivotal results come in only at the end. Between the wiki deadline and the excitement of leaving for Boston a week later - It can be very intense, but a supportive team makes all the difference,” says Abukar. “We’re working as a team right to the last second and Gold or no Gold, the experience itself is worth every moment.”
Waterloo iGEM 2016: OFF to PriON
Prions, also known as 'zombie proteins' are infectious agents associated with a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. While researchers know prions play a big role in protein misfolding and aggregation that can ultimately lead to cell death, there are still many gaps in understanding that need to be filled before an effective treatment can be generated.
To aid researchers in studying prions and the mysteries that surround them, Waterloo’s iGEM 2016 team developed a synthetic biology research tool to overexpress or knockdown the expression of prion like proteins in yeast cells (S. cerevisiae). By using a well-known model organism like yeast, the team was able to successfully demonstrate a working proof of concept and provide the scientific community with a means of studying prion propagation in detail.
“We’re very excited about our work from last year's competition,” says Abukar. “We’re hoping our results can contribute to the growing body of research in this critical field, and eventually result in effective treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.”