11 November 2008

Another break from your regularly schedules blogging -- iGEM recap

iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition) rocked the house (aka the Stata Center) this past weekend. I sadly was in Europe and thus had to miss this phenomenal intersection of disciplines / expertise, involving some of the most skilled students I've ever encountered pushing further and further into the field of synthetic biology. I've been lucky enough to offer be involved with these folks, as well as to work in the same space as the drivers behind this project. Congratulations to all involved, from Randy and Meagan, to all of the post docs, team leaders and students.

Here's a brief recap, posted by Rob Carlson.

iGEM 2008: Surprise -- The Future is Here Already.

"[...] Of the six finalists, three were from the U.S., two from Europe, and one from Asia. There were 85 teams registered, almost all of whom showed up. I was hoping for more biofuels/energy projects, but perhaps that fad is already past.

The top three teams were (here are the full results): 1) Slovenia 2) Freiburg 3) Caltech. [...]

Several of the 2008 projects implement ideas that have appeared in science fiction stories and in my own speculations about the future of biological technologies:

UCSF characterized a fusion protein that enables epigenetic control of gene expression through chromatin silencing. This, in effect, gives the user (which could be the cell itself) a new control knob for building memory circuits in eukaryotes. I seem to recall that this is the basic innovation in Greg Bear's Blood Music that brings about the end of the world through Green Goo. Go UCSF!

Caltech and NYMU-Taipei (check out the killer Wiki) both modified commensal E. coli strains to serve as therapeutics. Caltech built a bunch of new functionality into the probiotic strain Nissle 1917, including microbicidal circuits, Vitamin B supplements, and lactase production (big kudos to Christina Smolke, here). Taipei built a "Bactokidney" for people with kidney failure: cells that attach to the lining of the small intestine and absorb nasty substances that would otherwise need to be removed via dialysis. These are both very cool ideas. [...]

Slovenia won (again) with "Immunobricks" by engineering new vaccines. The technology they used forms the basis of arguments about rapid, distributed vaccine production we made in Genome Synthesis and Design Futures (Section 4.3, in particular), which I've also written about extensively here on this blog, and which will show up in my book. Yet all of a sudden its real, all the more so because it was an iGEM project. [...] "

More after the jump ...

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