A multidisciplinary group of students has formed ASU’s first team to enter the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM), the premier undergraduate synthetic biology competition.

Each team uses a kit provided by the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, then adds parts of their own design to build a biological system. Teams work over the summer in preparation for the fall competition.

Bacteria and archaea possess a unique and rapidly adaptive mechanism to combat the threat of viral invasion. This mechanism of ‘bacterial defense’ uses Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) DNA sequences that work in concert with a set of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins. The ASU iGEM team is working to develop a modular platform for synthetically directing the CRISPR-Cas system to silence genes of interest, such as antibiotic-resistant genes or genes associated with bacterial pathogenicity.

If successful, the team will be able to silence any desired gene in a prokaryotic organism using an easily customizable system.

The team is particularly excited because CRISPRs are a relatively recent discovery and a hot research topic.

iGEM began as a design course in 2003 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Students in the course designed systems to make cells blink. In 2010, 130 teams competed with projects ranging from wintergreen-smelling bacteria to an arsenic biosensor. The grand prize is a huge aluminum Lego that, like the Stanley Cup, the winning team keeps for one year.

Due to the competition’s growth—71 teams from the Americas, 46 from Asia and 49 from Europe—iGEM will be holding regional jamborees in October, with a percentage of the teams advancing on to the 2011 world championship held at MIT in November.
Visit: http://studentorgs.engineering.asu.edu/igem/ and http://2011.igem.org/Team:Arizona_State

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