For the first time, a Wageningen student team has reached the finals of iGem, an international contest in the field of synthetic biology.
'It still seems a bit unreal,' responded team member Kees van de Ark in a crackly Skype call from Boston last week. 'We are jumping for joy.' They had just heard that they were in the top 16 of 190 competitors. 'We couldn't believe it, actually.'
Having sweated blood for a year preparing for iGem, the students' relief was enormous. They are home now, and on Monday morning team member Jeroen Bosman was already hard at work on his thesis. He is sporting an MIT sweater, though, and he is suffering from jetlag. They were hectic weeks, he says. The days in Boston were long, with presentations from other teams as well as from NASA and the FBI. And of course they also had a few beers and wandered around the 'gigantic' campuses of Harvard and MIT.
Although Bosman loved the project, he is relieved it is over now. 'I want to spend more time with my girlfriend.' It was heavy going, and most of the team members are exhausted. Even after the European finals on 7 October they feverishly honed the weak points, devoting their last 'free' weekend before Boston to it too - their poster for the finals still needed finishing.
The products entered in the iGem competition belong in the field of synthetic biology. Researchers in this area build artificial circuits with individual bio bricks. These circuits have various useful functions. In the case of Wageningen, for example, they enable medicines to be targeted at a specific part of the body. The winning team from Groningen devised a 'food guard' which lights up as soon as food decays.