The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is an academic contest in synthetic biology, bringing together aspiring scientists from across the world. iGEM was created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2003 and today is an independent, non-profit organization. Every year, thousands of students gather in Paris for the competition finale, called the Giant Jamboree, to celebrate and share their work.
Since 2012, the Technische Universität Darmstadt has entered teams and in 2021 the iGEM team consisted of 30 students. Eight of these participated in the Next Great Impossible: Alexander Pattberg, Kristina Gasthofer, Marwan Kaufmann, Sidney Mitsch, Leoni von Haza-Radlitz, Maira Bradler, Nicole Rupp and Philipp Münch. Their project, is known by the acronym PHIRE BYRD: “PHage Immune REsponse BY Recognizing Defensive sleeper cells”.
The project team, inspired by the iGEM vision of ‘building a better world with synthetic biology’, developed a bacterial biofilm containing modified Bacillus subtilis cells that release signal-induced specialized phages to kill pathogens. The students had 1 year to work on their chosen topic and could shape the project themselves. This is a great exercise for later research projects in their scientific careers. The project has won the Best Wiki award in the Overgrad segment and was nominated for an award in four other categories including Best Education, Best Integrated Human Practices, Best Software Tool and Best New Application Project.
The team explained that before biofilms can be released, it must be established that they do not cause problems. The use of biofilms for water treatment, the protection of plant roots from parasites, or the synthesis of biochemical products carries the risk of pathogens like Pseudomonas aeruginosa implanting themselves, so the team wanted to design a system that uses risk-free functionalized biofilms. As the potential applications for functional biofilms steadily increase, it is essential to ensure their safety and PHIRE BYRD is a key step in that process.
Meet the team
Congratulations to all 30 students listed below who participated in the 2021 competition as part of the Technische Universität Darmstadt’s iGEM team: