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Innovative York students look for local business support

Posted on 26 April 2013

A team of undergraduate Biology students at the University of York is developing a bacteria powered electrical battery as part of a global synthetic biology competition.

And to maximise their chances of success in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, the students are calling on the North Yorkshire business community to offer them support.

The contest involves over 150 teams who are given a toolkit of biological parts to be used to create something world changing. Students then work over the summer in research labs under the guidance of academics.

The aim is to build simple biological systems – living machines – from standard interchangeable parts (DNA) and operate them in living cells. Innovations in previous years range from pure biotechnological methods to medical devices.

This is the first time York students have entered the competition and the 17-strong team will develop and improve the efficiency of a microbial fuel cell - a bio-electrochemical system, like a battery, that drives a current produced by bacteria.

Competing will be a great experience in terms of learning and doing something novel

Ivan Gyulev

Team member Ivan Gyulev, a second-year student studying Genetics in the University’s Department of Biology, said: “Competing will be a great experience in terms of learning and doing something novel, and will help build our team working skills.

“Our objective is the development of Electricus aureus, a genetically modified version of the model bacterium Escherichia coli, capable of improving the efficiency of microbial fuel cells. We aim to do this by, for example, modifying bacteria to secrete gold nanoparticles and depositing them on the anode, increasing the conductivity and surface area of the electrode.”

Synthetic biology is an area of biological research that combines science and engineering and involves the design and construction of biological devices for useful purposes.

At the end of the competition, teams hand in their newly created genes and genomes to the iGEM Foundation, which then makes the genes available to everyone in the scientific community.

The iGEM competition involves regional jamborees in Europe, the Americas and Asia in October, which will be attended by future and established scientists. Winning teams then advance to the World Championships in Massachusetts, USA in November.

Dr James Chong, one of the academics supporting the student-led project, said: “It would be fantastic for York students to win the competition in the University’s 50th Anniversary year. We really hope members of the local business community will lend the York team their support, and in doing so, help promote the city’s young scientific talent.”

Business sponsorship is needed to help cover the students’ living costs while they work on the project in the University’s Biology labs over the summer vacation, as well as to pay for consumables. The students have already received a grant of £8,000 thanks to gifts to York from alumni and friends of the University.

Any business interested in sponsorship opportunities can contact Dr Chong on

As well as designing and executing experiments, the competition is also about communicating the science to the general public. Students and staff from any discipline who feel they would have something to contribute are invited to get in touch with Dr Chong to find out more.

Notes to editors:

  • For more information on the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition visit
  • For more information on the Department of Biology at the University of York visit

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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