Hidden Gem: A Unique Undergraduate Research Opportunity

Gaia Herrmann is in her 3rd year of a Bachelor of Science (immunology and biochemistry). She is a member of this year's Sydney University team in the iGEM competition.

Gaia Herrmann is in her 3rd year of a Bachelor of Science (immunology and biochemistry). She is a member of this year’s Sydney University team in the iGEM competition.

The International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition or iGEM for short is a prestigious and unique competition open to undergraduate students interested in the field of synthetic biology. Being a member of this team involves creating and carrying out individual research projects that are aimed at solving real world problems using novel genetic techniques.

Being able to direct our own research is a truly unique experience for undergraduates. In 2015 there will be over 200 teams competing from across the world including some iGEM powerhouses such as MIT, Oxford, Helenski, and Cambridge. All teams compete against each other at the Giant Jamboree held in Boston during September. The University of Sydney Team is in it’s third year of competition. We are attempting to optimise the expression of an enzyme in a bacteria found in your gut called E. Coli. If successful then this bacteria and enzyme has some really interesting and useful applications.

One such application is bioremediation in which the enzyme can change chloroalkanes are common ground water pollutants into something that is sufficiently less toxic for humans and animals. It can also perform biocatalysis reactions producing drug precursors. Most of these precursors can only be chemically synthesised which is incredibly expensive and toxic, so if we can perform this same process through an enzyme then it will be cheaper and more efficient. Our experimental process involves cloning, and gene design.

Having the ability to conduct novel research in such a rapidly advancing field has not only been incredibly exciting, but has opened my eyes to the multitude of opportunities that a research career has to offer.

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