SCWIST-Sponsored McMaster SynBio Team Awarded Silver Medal at International Synthetic Biology Competition

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After many months of Zoom meetings, planning, and researching, McMaster SynBio was awarded a silver medal at the 2021 International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) virtual Giant Jamboree.

As the world’s largest synthetic biology competition and conference, iGEM invites over 300 student teams from all over the world to engineer novel biological systems in combination with hardware and software to help combat difficult challenges faced by society. 

This year, SCWIST was a dedicated sponsor of the team, providing $1000 for laboratory equipment, DNA samples, and participation fees. The McMaster Synbio team is made up of engineering, wet lab, and human practices/outreach subteams. The team has a 50/50 gender representation and consists of students from diverse and interdisciplinary backgrounds. The team’s 2021 project focused on developing a novel bacterial treatment to combat adherent invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC), a pathogenic bacterial strain associated with causing and exacerbating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They developed key interdisciplinary research skills in this process through employing mathematical modelling, engineering, and molecular biology principles. The students also engaged with the local and global community by offering internship opportunities to high school students and hosting webinars, campaigns and other events to educate the public on budding research in synthetic biology and IBD. Overall, the judges praised the team’s educational efforts and the need for a project targeting this widespread issue, as well as the innovative approach that the team implemented throughout the process.

Maia Poon, a McMaster SynBio Wet Lab researcher and SCWIST member, is a second-year student who researched mechanisms of ulcerative colitis and different treatment options for AIEC and Crohn’s disease. 

About the learning opportunities that being a part of the team provides, she says, “I was able to learn so much about the engineering and research processes outside of the classroom and from students as well as our supervisors.” For the first time, McMaster SynBio also hosted high school student interns as part of their summer programming. “I really enjoyed teaching high school students about the different opportunities available in genetics and biotechnology—they found it really interesting, too!” Maia shares. “I’d like to thank SCWIST for supporting SynBio’s initiatives because they really make an impact on students.”

The team is most proud of the biological circuit design and experimental workflow that they designed. They hope to implement their plans in the lab throughout this coming year. Their work would not be possible without the generous funding of industry and academic sponsors including SCWIST. 

McMaster SynBio is led by two McMaster students, Hugo Yan and Kian Yousefi Kousha. The team currently works under the supervision of principal investigator Dr. Zeinab Hosseinidoust (Chemical Engineering, Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research) and project advisor Kyle Jackson. Since its inception, the team has been working actively on gathering funding and experimentally executing their annual projects, which have been showcased at major international biology competitions like iGEM and the Biomolecular Design Competition (BIOMOD). Although the team has faced unique hurdles this year, including operating in a completely virtual environment, they were proud to present their work at the Giant Jamboree. Inspired by the sheer potential of synthetic biology and the work of other teams, the entire team is extremely excited to start their lab-based project this coming year. Learn more about the team’s 2021 project.

If you are interested in discussing synthetic biology, McMaster Synbio’s work, or are interested in joining the team, please do not hesitate to contact:

Hugo Yan, Kian Yousefi Kousha 
McMaster SynBio

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