Nieuws - 10 november 2010

Wageningen team is game for high level lego

A team of Wageningen students will participate in the iGEM, an international biology modelling competition. Lego for experts.

PhD student Floor Hugenholtz of Systems Biology is at the root of the Wageningen participation. 'I took part in the iGEM in 2008 when I studied in Groningen. That was great fun. When I talked about this here, the new professor of Systems and Synthetic Biology Vitor Martins dos Santos asked me to put together something similar in Wageningen.' Hugenholtz and his colleague Mark van Passel will lead the Wageningen team, which is being formed.
iGEM stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine and was initiated by the MIT in Boston. The aim of the competition is to make students enthusiastic about synthetic biology. This subject, which is new to Wageningen, is about building new functions into existing organisms. The Systems and Synthetic Biology group is located in the microbiology building in De Dreijen.
Hugenholtz compares the competition to doing things with Lego, with the blocks being DNA pieces. By fixing a piece in front and one behind, so-called BioBricks are formed. These become the building blocks in the lego box.  The blocks can be linked to one another with a fixed set of clip enzymes. Hugenholtz: 'The whole idea behind BioBricks is to make the blocks standard so that they are easy to use.' It becomes child's play, or, in this case, that for a Bachelor's or a Master's student.
 E-coli with light
The goal of the competition is to come up with a new organism. E-coli, for example, has been modified to break down oil, an idea which has taken Delft University through to the finals this year. Cambridge University came up with the idea of having similar bacteria emit light. Hugenholtz: 'In principle, anything is possible, as long as you have fun. But of course, the judges will consider how applicable and original something is.'
This year, 128 teams from all over the world participated in the grand finals in Boston which ended on Monday. Well, a team from Wageningen will take part for the first time next year. Ten interested students have already contacted Hugenholtz, but there is still room for more. The team members will assemble next week.