Seniors from New Mission High School compete in annual Shark Tank–like event, with help from BU undergrad and grad student mentors

By Patrick L. Kennedy

Swallowing jitters and marshaling a semester’s worth of research, 11 teams of local high schoolers arrived at Boston University on a recent spring day to pitch products to a panel of BU faculty and affiliates playing the part of skeptical investors. It was the second annual Synthetic Biology Shark Tank Competition, which was held at the BU Life Sciences & Engineering Building April 26.

Mentored by undergrad and graduate students from BU’s College of Engineering, the 28 seniors from Boston’s diverse New Mission High School conceived of, and fleshed out, synthetic biology solutions to real-world problems. Among the products they pitched: crops modified to survive unseasonable cold snaps; marine bacteria engineered to clean up oil spills; and a microorganism that warns mountain climbers of impending altitude sickness.

No actual dollars were invested in these on-paper concepts, but the experience taught the students valuable skills and got them thinking like real engineers and biotech developers.

“Eventually, I want to run a lab that does its own research,” says Mario Fils, whose team proposed Jurassic Plastic (tagline: “Making Plastic Extinct”), a plastic-eating bacteria that would be deployed in landfills, where at least half of plastic waste ends up. “The deeper I got into it, the more I realized that this is a big, big issue. So I can see myself continuing this research and maybe even releasing the product that we came up with.”

Read the full story at BU Today