University of Calgary

iGEM advances to world finals

UToday HomeOctober 17, 2012

The University of Calgary iGEM team, which developed technology that detects and removes toxins from tailings ponds, will compete at the world finals at MIT in November. Photo courtesy Iain GeorgeThe University of Calgary iGEM team, which developed technology that detects and removes toxins from tailings ponds, will compete at the world finals at MIT in November. Photo courtesy Iain GeorgeThe University of Calgary iGEM team will advance to the iGEM World Championship November 2-5 at MIT after the team of 27 students cleaned up at the North America west division competition last weekend at Stanford.

“Our team was selected as one of the three finalists, and ranked second (first runner up) overall at the competition,” says David Lloyd, a graduate student advisor for the team. “We also placed with a gold medal but the most amazing part was that we won five of the special awards which iGEM hands out! I was literally shaking as our name got called for a third, fourth, and fifth time.”

The awards include Best Poster, Best Wiki, Best Modelling, Best Safety Accommodation and a tie with Arizona State University for the Best Human Practices Award.

iGEM is the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, an annual undergraduate synthetic biology contest that sees students design different biological systems to run in living cells.

“There were 21 teams with various different projects from teaching bacteria to learn music, all the way to new ideas on how we can get rid of caffeine or plastics in water supplies,” says Lloyd. “Our team was up against some of the largest universities and colleges in North America, including Stanford, Caltech, Washington and Berkeley.”

The team’s project, Detect and Destroy: Engineering FRED and OSCAR, is a biosensor to detect toxic components in tailings ponds and synthetic bacteria to remediate the toxic components into usable fuel. FRED is the Functional and Robust Electrochemical Detector which measures the level of toxins more cheaply than conventional chemical methods, and OSCAR is the Optimized System for Carboxylic Acid Remediation, which removes the toxic components from tailings and converts them to hydrocarbons, such as diesel.

“Our success demonstrated the power and potential of our project and we are so excited that we will now be representing Canada, as the only Canadian team in the western region, to go onto the finals,” says Lloyd.

Three faculty members, Anders Nygren with the Schulich School of Engineering, Lisa Gieg with the Department of Biological Sciences and Mayi Arcellana-Panlilio with Faculty of Medicine, as well as four graduate student advisors are helping the team.

You can read the team’s blog and learn more about team members on their website.