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York students awarded gold in global biology competition

Posted on 30 September 2015

Science undergraduates from the University of York have won a gold medal at this year’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston.

The University of York's iGEM team

A team of thirteen undergraduates, from Departments including Biology, Chemistry and Computer Science, travelled to the Giant Jamboree to present their project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Competing against more than 260 teams from around the world, the York iGEM team secured their second Gold medal in three years of the competition. They were also runners-up across the competition for the Supporting Entrepreneurship Award, second to Cornell.

iGEM is an international synthetic biology contest that aims to produce novel ideas for potential use in real-world challenges. Given a toolkit of biological parts (‘biobricks’), students are asked to create a biological system to operate in a living cell.

The York team’s project - Phil Phosphate – presented how E. coli can be engineered to seperate phosphate from wastewater as part of the clean-up process. An alternative to chemical phosphate removal, bio-remediating water from metal and phosphate pollution will allow the recycling of minerals, and is an issue that local water boards and treatment companies are targeting.

Dr James Chong, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biology and academic lead for the York team said: "I'm thrilled that the team have done so well.  They've worked incredibly hard over the summer and achieved a huge amount in a very short time and on an extremely limited budget.  To be in the running for one of the major awards is a testament to the quality of students we have at York."

The team had academic support from Dr Gavin Thomas and Professor Maggie Smith from York’s Department of Biology, and Dr Alison Parkin, Anniversary Research Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry.  PhD students Sophie Rugg, Rachel Evans and Henry Nicholls also provided the team with technical advice.

The team was underwritten by the Department of Biology and received financial support from a large number of sources including the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), The Wellcome Trust, The Society for Applied Microbiology, The Society for Experimental Biology and The Society for General Microbiology.

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