BU Teams Earn Top Honors at iGEM Jamboree

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Two student teams representing BU in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Jamboree netted recognition and gold medals in five categories. The iGEM Jamboree, held at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston at the end of October, is the world’s premier synthetic biology competition for students and hosted more than 5,600 participants from 42 countries this year.

The two teams, BostonU Foundational Advance and BostonU Hardware, were comprised of undergraduate students conducting research projects since last May. The Jamboree was an opportunity to present their research for prizes. Teams were judged based upon an oral presentation, a poster, their team Wiki and a question-and-answer session with the judges. Both teams performed well, each taking home gold medals and several nominations for special prizes.

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From left to right, Gemini project team members Kami Drezek (BME’17), team mentor Ben Weinberg (BME), Jeffrey Marano (BME’18), Rachel Petherbridge (BME’19), Will Benman (BME’18) and Marisa Mendes (BME’18).

BostonU Foundational Advance presented their project, “Gemini,” in which they combined digital and analog systems to control gene expression. This technology could potentially be used in therapeutic applications. Their work garnered a nomination for “Best Foundational Advance Track,” “Best Basic Part,” and “Best Part Collection.” Overall, the judges said the Foundational Advance team developed a “slick website” with “crystal-clear” explanations.  One judge said that that their “system looks good enough to revolutionize the control of gene expression in mammalian cells.”

The team members who worked on the Gemini project include Will Benman (BME’18), Kami Drezek (BME’17), Jeffrey Marano (BME’18), Marisa Mendes (BME’18) and Rachel Petherbridge (BME’19).

“Genetic engineering is really tough because it can be tricky to get things to work in mammalian cells, and the team did a fantastic job both in the lab and presenting to the judges to make their project a success,” says Assistant Professor Wilson Wong (BME), faculty advisor for the Gemini project. “It reflects well on their efforts and dedication to produce high-quality work.”

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From left to right, Neptune team members include Shane McCormack (CE, BME’17), Priya Kapadia (CE’18), Associate Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE), Becca Wolfe (CE’17), Kestas Subacius (CE,BME’18), and Zachary Lasiuk (EE’17). Back row includes team mentores Radhakrishna Sanka (ECE), Joshua Lippai (ECE) and Ryan Silva (EE).

BostonU Hardware presented their project, “Neptune.” They created a system to build microfluidic devices more efficiently, providing researchers with broader accessibility to an important tool in synthetic biology. Current devices are expensive to manufacture and require specific expertise to utilize. The Neptune project netted nominations for “Best Applied Design” and “Best Software Tool,” where the judges remarked that the team had “impressive accomplishments” and they had performed “substantial work…to produce an amazing hardware/software package useful in synthetic biology and other applications.”

Members of the hardware team include Priya Kapadia (CE’18), Zachary Lasiuk (EE’17),  Shane McCormack (CE, BME’17), Johan Ospina (CE’17), Kestas Subacius (CE, BME’18) and Becca Wolf (CE’17).

“The Boston University Hardware team created a low cost, microfluidic design platform that can be used for a variety of synthetic biology applications. This will allow labs across the world to create custom design environments to test their new biological designs,” says Associate Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE), who served as the faculty advisor. “Their nomination for best software and best applied design demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of the research.”

Visit the Gemini wiki page and the Neptune wiki page to learn more about the teams and their projects.

Marisa Mendes (BME’18) also contributed information to this report.