U of G Students Win Gold at International Genetic Engineering Competition

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iGEM Guelph team members after winning gold

iGEM Guelph team members after winning gold

A novel antibiotic sensor that can be used to test animal products such as milk or honey has earned University of Guelph students one of the top prizes in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) foundation’s 2019 competition.

The team of 33 students created the Viosensor, a modular biosensor that can detect tetracycline, an antibiotic commonly used in agriculture to treat bacterial infections. The biosensor changes from clear to pink when the antibiotic is present.

Antibiotic overuse in livestock contributes significantly to antibiotic resistance. International health organizations have stated the importance of stringent monitoring and control of animal products treated with antibiotics.

“We wanted to give farmers access to a time- and cost-effective diagnostic test that they can use on-site to test their products.” said iGEM Guelph co-president Jehoshua Sharma.

Nearly 6,000 students from 45 countries showcased their synthetic biology projects at the iGEM competition in Boston earlier this month.

The event encourages students to develop solutions to global problems using innovation in synthetic biology. The iGEM Guelph team, which includes students from four different U of G colleges, spent the summer developing their technology.

“The iGEM competition provides a space where students can gain experience beyond what can be learned in a classroom,” says Nicole LeBlanc, one of the team’s project leads.

The gold medal at the international competition was also in recognition of the team’s outreach efforts.

Over the past year, the Guelph iGEM team was involved in a number of outreach activities. The students hosted a conference for iGEM teams from Ontario and Quebec, meeting with executive members of Ontario Genomics to discuss the latest research in undergraduate synthetic biology.

The team also created a program for a STEM summer camp, produced a podcast and blog, and worked with Guelph Queer Equality to discuss and highlight LGBTQ+ contributions and representation in STEM fields.

“It is wonderful to see our students integrating outreach into their work,” said Prof. Stephen Seah, who supervised the team along with Prof. Rebecca Shapiro, both in the department of molecular and cellular biology. “These students exemplify the responsibility that scientists should be undertaking to communicate our research to the wider community.”