Brown's iGEM Beginnings
In early 2006, a small group of interested persons, most notably John and Brendan, got together and decided that they wanted to get involved with the iGEM project. They put the word out that we wanted a team of 8 undergraduates for innovative synthetic biology lab work over the summer. Students from many different departments, including engineering, biology, and computer science, responded to this first call and started the Journal club. The purpose of the journal club was to go through seminal papers in synthetic biology to bring us up to speed on the state of the art, to give us ideas for our summer's project, and to bring our number down to eight undergraduates. In April, the team was set and we were brainstorming projects.
Our initial ideas were very optimistic, which we were aware of at the start of the competition. Ideas that were floated included:
If we could engineer a pathway whereby a cell could have a different behavior each generation, we could easily track varying growth rates, encourage long-period behavior change and produce many other desired effects. We got in contact with other labs working on the problem and, after they appraised us of their years of fruitless efforts, we went back to the drawing board.
Free radical detector
Free radicals have a profound impact on the workings of biological systems. As such, if we could engineer a part that uptook and reported the presence of such radicals, this could have medical applications.
Magnetospirillium have an extra organelle called a magnetosome which contains magnetic nanoparticals. These bacteria are often found in sewers and other metal-rich damp places aligned to the earth's magnetic poles. These bacteria are exciting to synthetic biology because it is possible to tag the magnetic particles with proteins and so magnetize the desired protein. This has medical applications because applying a magnetic field to the nanoparticles causes them to heat up and eventually destroy whatever cell in which they reside.
Further Developed Ideas
Bacterial Freeze tag
The first purely iGEM-related idea we had, the freeze tag project was a concession to the observation that our team worked better split into smaller groups. The project is made up of four modular devices: an AHL-producing cell, an AHL-PoPS device, a bi-stable switch turning off motility and finally a gene responsible for switching the toggle back. Expected behavior: the sender cell comes near another cell, floods it with AHL. The AHL causes the second cell to cease producing motB, a protein necessary for motility. Another cell comes along later and reactivates the second cell's motility by virtue of the unfreezing device. This is a work in progress.
Tri-stable toggle switch
The bi-stable toggle switch was a hit but why stop at two? If we could construct and characterize a three-way toggle switch, we could begin to get a sense of the issues associated with building an n-stable toggle switch, possibly proving that there is a limit to the feasible size of such a device or suggesting scalability.
Click here to follow a link to all of our parts in the registry: []
We had to jump a number of hurdles to get the team off the ground. First we had to build the team, then secure funding (Many thanks to Brown and the Presidents Office) we then had to find lab space. The biggest challenge was then to come up with realistic ideas that had a chance of working. Finally, we encountered a number of cloning problems in the lab. However, we have all learned a lot this year, and look forward to the next year.