Aalto-Helsinki awarded gold medal in iGEM 2018
Multidisciplinary student team from Aalto University and the University of Helsinki made it to the top category out of three in iGEM Giant Jamboree 24–28 October in Boston. The team also received a nomination for Best Product Design from special track award categories.
International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) is a big annual international competition focused on synthetic biology. More than 300 teams and nearly 6,000 students from universities around the world participated in the competition this year to innovate and tackle various issues from diseases to environmental pollution with the tools of synthetic biology.
The Aalto-Helsinki iGEM team has been working for seven months to develop a potential solution to an international environmental problem: textile dyeing polluting water systems. In many countries with large-scale textile industry such as India and Bangladesh, part of the synthetic dyes used in the plants end up in rivers and lakes. Many of these synthetic dyes are both hazardous and slow to biodegrade.
"Our project was about problem-based learning, and for finding out a solution, we have interviewed people in the textile industry and companies as well as locals in Bangladesh. Aalto has experience and research on the production of silk proteins, so it helped us focus on silk", says Kaarle Rasi, a student at the International Design Business Management program in Aalto University.
Textile dyeing might become history
The team developed Silkolor, a method with a more sustainable approach to the dyeing process. The key is the use of fusion proteins for producing pre-dyed silk fibers and biodegradable protein-based dyes, that could in the future offer a more environmentally-friendly alternative to current dyeing practices.
“It is an innovation that could completely remove the textile dyeing stage from the value chain – so it’s quite a game-changing solution in the industry. There is still a long way to go, but hopefully, our initial efforts will get realized”, rejoices one of the student team, a Creative Sustainability master student Viktorija Piaulokaite from Aalto University.
Now the team is looking forward to seeing what new innovations will be spinning off from synthetic biology.
“It has been fascinating to see the scale and potential that synthetic biology has to offer. It is a technology that will be utilized a lot in the future. We are glad to have a chance to work at its emergence and be part of this big global community”, says Piaulokaite.
The team of Aalto-Helsinki 2018 consists of ten students from Aalto University and the University of Helsinki that come from fields of biosciences, design, sustainability, business and even physics. Year 2018 marks the fifth time that Aalto-Helsinki has participated in iGEM competition every year with a new team. Currently, Aalto-Helsinki is recruiting students from all fields of their home universities for next year’s team to work on with a new project utilizing the tools of synthetic biology.
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