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Aalto-Helsinki student team awarded gold medal in iGEM 2020 Giant Jamboree

The student team's awarded solution tackles pharmaceutical pollution in wastewaters.
Aalto-Helsinki team 2020 photo: Markus Sommers
Aalto-Helsinki 2020 team members from left to right: Tytti Jämsä, Natalia Lindholm, Julia Manninen, Emilia Barannik, Artur Gynter, Marja Rajakenttä, Gustav Åberg, Daria Pająk, Amanda Sandelin and Carla Coll Costa. Photo: Markus Sommers

Aalto-Helsinki team won a gold medal (the best of three medal categories) in this year’s iGEM 2020 Virtual Giant Jamboree . The event took place between 14th-22nd of November 2020. During the final ceremonies, the team was also proud to receive nominations for Best Environment Project and Best Integrated Human Practices.

iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) is an annually held synthetic biology competition organized by the non-profit iGEM Foundation. This year, 256 teams and almost 5 000 students from universities all around the globe participated in the competition to innovate and tackle various issues from diseases to environmental pollution using synthetic biology tools. In doing so, the teams also help standardize the field by contributing with biological parts BioBricks and conducting measurements.

The whole year of 2020, Aalto-Helsinki has been working to help protect our shrinking water resources and the environment from one of the pressing issues it is facing today: pharmaceutical pollution. The presence of macrolide antibiotics in nature is a growing concern as they have been on the 'watch list' of pharmaceuticals for EU-wide monitoring in aquatic environments for several years. They can be harmful to the environment and human health because they are persistent and can remain biologically active. Additionally, they may promote the development of antimicrobial resistance. According to various experts, there will likely be regulations regarding the monitoring and removal of pharmaceuticals in the near future. However, additional purification steps are highly resource-consuming, and their implementation requires monitoring. The current methods for measuring pharmaceuticals are time-consuming, expensive, and require expertise.

The solution of Aalto-Helsinki is SINISENS – a step towards cleaner waters. SINISENS is designed to aid wastewater treatment plants to monitor the concentrations of macrolide antibiotics and could be used to optimize the removal process. SINISENS is an optical on-site biosensor based on a genetic circuit that utilises a transcription factor called MphR to detect macrolide antibiotics. In the presence of these compounds, SINISENS produces green fluorescence as an output signal.

Aalto-Helsinki 2020 consists of ten students from Aalto University and the University of Helsinki that in multidisciplinary fashion come from fields of biosciences, bioinformatics, genetics, evolutionary biology, chemistry, and physics. The project started in early February 2020 and lasted until November. Year 2020 marks the seventh time that Aalto-Helsinki has participated in iGEM Competition, every year with a new team. Soon, Aalto-Helsinki will start recruiting students from all fields of their home universities for next year’s team to amaze the world with a new project utilizing the tools of synthetic biology.

Traditionally, during the fall, all the iGEM teams gather together in Boston for the Giant Jamboree to share their ideas and accomplishments with others and the world. However, due to this exceptional year, the Giant Jamboree was held virtually.

Text: Aalto-Helsinki 2020 iGEM team

More information

Aalto-Helsinki project promotion video

Aalto-Helsinki project wiki site

iGEM 2020 website

Aalto-Helsinki website

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