Aalto-Helsinki student team awarded gold medal in iGEM 2020 Giant Jamboree

This year, 256 teams and almost 5 000 students from universities all around the globe participated in the competition.

iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) is an annually held synthetic biology competition organized by the non-profit iGEM Foundation.

Aalto-Helsinki student team won a gold medal in this year’s iGEM 2020 Virtual Giant Jamboree. During the final ceremonies, the team also received nominations for Best Environment Project and Best Integrated Human Practices.

This year, 256 teams and almost 5 000 students from universities all around the globe participated in the competition to innovate and tackle various issues from diseases to environmental pollution using synthetic biology tools.

The team is fighting against pharmaceutical pollution

Aalto-Helsinki has been working to help protect our shrinking water resources and the environment from pharmaceutical pollution. The presence of macrolide antibiotics in nature is a growing concern as they have been on the ‘watch list’ of pharmaceuticals for EU-wide monitoring in aquatic environments for several years.

According to various experts, there will likely be regulations regarding the monitoring and removal of pharmaceuticals in the near future. However, additional purification steps are highly resource-consuming, and their implementation requires monitoring. The current methods for measuring pharmaceuticals are time-consuming, expensive, and require expertise.

The solution: SINISENS

The solution of Aalto-Helsinki is SINISENS – a step towards cleaner waters. SINISENS is designed to aid wastewater treatment plants to monitor the concentrations of macrolide antibiotics and could be used to optimize the removal process.

According to the team, SINISENS is an optical on-site biosensor based on a genetic circuit that utilises a transcription factor called MphR to detect macrolide antibiotics. In the presence of these compounds, SINISENS produces green fluorescence as an output signal.

“Our solution has the potential to be used in the real world, helping wastewater treatment plants to monitor the removal of pharmaceuticals. We wish that our innovation would be applied in the future,” the team says.

Aalto-Helsinki team is happy and grateful for the results in the competition.

“Our hard work paid off! After a year of intensive work with the project, we will concentrate on recruiting the next Aalto-Helsinki team.”

Aalto-Helsinki 2020 consists of ten students from Aalto University and the University of Helsinki. The students come from fields of biosciences, bioinformatics, genetics, evolutionarybiology, chemistry, and physics. The project started in early February 2020 and lasted until November. Year 2020 marks the seventh time that Aalto-Helsinki has participated in iGEM Competition, every year with a new team.

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