A team of UvA and VU students are participating in this year’s iGEM competition. In this contest, teams from around the world are challenged to address problems as a result of increased CO2 emissions, such as pollution and climate change, with solutions based on the genetic modification of micro-organisms.
The team from Amsterdam started with Life Sciences Master’s students Age Tjama, Josine Oude Lohuis, Bram van de Putte, Yuki Esser and Max Guillaume. With the joint aim to let cyanobacteria produce fumarate, each of the students individually came up with a research question. They are carrying out their research in the Molecular Microbial Physiology lab under supervision of Dr Filipe Branco dos Santos from the Swammerdam Institute of Life Sciences at the University of Amsterdam.
In the next five months, a lot of their time will be dedicated to work in the lab. In early November, the team will travel to Boston to present their research results and find out what the competition has come with.
Cyanobacteria have a unique quality: they are the only bacteria that can use photosynthesis to produce energy and oxygen from sunlight and CO2. By using this energy partly for the growth of the bacteria and partly for the production of fumarate, this application can help to reduce CO2 emission. Normally, fumarate is synthetised from petroleum and used for making plastics, biofuel, food additives and medication.
Increasing awareness of the importance of scientific research for society is part of the competition. By joining platforms such as Amsterdam Smart City, the students aim to reach the larger public with their project. In a podcast about the genetic modification of organisms they will also discuss the ethical aspects of their study.
The core team has been expanded with Thijs van Schaik, Bachelor’s student Psychobiology, Milou Dirksen, graduate of Communication Science, and Mohammad Aljohmani, Syrian refugee and student of web design. Besides research, the team works on finding sponsorship for the costs of research and travel.