A Minnesota team of seven undergraduate and four graduate students, guided by BTI Professor Yiannis Kaznessis (Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science), were awarded a Gold Medal at The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) for their work on SynBioSS, a software tool that assists in designing and constructing synthetic biological systems.

An annual event since 2004, iGEM brings together international teams of undergraduate students to showcase some of the newest and most unique ideas in synthetic biology. Student teams are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer from the MIT Registry of Standard Biological Parts, and combine these parts with new parts of their own design to build biological systems and operate them within living cells.

“iGEM provides a wonderful opportunity to combine skills and knowledge from engineering and biological sciences and to build biological systems that respond to our signals in a precise manner,” explained Kaznessis.

The Minnesota team included students majoring in chemical engineering, molecular biology, mathematics, biomedical engineering and chemistry. Working for ten weeks during the summer, they had an opportunity to train in interdisciplinary science at the crossroads of engineering and biology. Six of them went to the 2009 iGEM competition in Boston, MA, where they presented their work to the synthetic biology community. They were one of 47 gold medal winners in a field of over 110 teams.

The University of Cambridge team was overall winner of the competition and the prestigious BioBrick award for their design of a multicolored, glowing E. coli bacterium bright enough to see with the human eye and help verify experiment results.

The 2009 Minnesota iGEM team was supported by the University of Minnesota Bioinformatics Summer Institute (a NSF-NIH funded program), the Digital Technology Center, the BioTechnology Institute, the Institute of Technology and the Office of the Vice President of Research.

-Tim Montgomery