U E. coli research wins award at MIT

Five U students took home the gold prize in the MIT bioengineering contest.

Adam Daniels

E. coli is a friend to no one, but five University of Minnesota undergraduates have the bacteria to thank after winning an award for research they did on its inner workings.
Team Minnesota won the Best BioBrick Part, Natural category at the 2010 International Genetically Engineered Machine Jamboree  at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Friday.
About 130 teams from more than 25 countries were there to compete in about 20 categories.
âÄúThe whole point of the competition is to get people thinking about synthetic biology,âÄù Ian Windsor, a biology senior, said.
Along with three post-doctoral students and two BioTechnology Institute  faculty members, Team Minnesota started the project earlier this year. According to a BTI news release, each group started with a kit of biological parts, which they used âÄúto build biological systems and operate them in living cells.âÄù
The team took a look at natural proteins, and by doing so, figured out how they can recreate the microenvironments of normal tissue.
âÄúWe didnâÄôt have much of a better idea âĦ It was just sort of there,âÄù Windsor said. âÄúItâÄôs not âÄòCan we do this?,âÄô but âÄòHow do we do this?âÄôâÄù
The project could help increase the rate of biochemical reactions by getting enzymes to associate with a specific spot within a cell.
The BioBrick Trophy  âÄî the overall grand prize âÄî was awarded to Team Slovenia, which enabled control of the order and sequence of reactions in a specific biosynthetic pathway.
âÄú[Team Slovenia] were going to attempt [our project] but they thought it would be too hard,âÄù Windsor said. âÄúThey were very impressed.âÄù
Teams from China and England came in second and third, respectively.
Sixty teams, including Minnesota, achieved gold, though Windsor said the bigger achievement is the award.
âÄúThe gold means we just did all the work required of the competition,âÄù he said.
Windsor said he hopes doing well at the iGEM will bring the project more exposure and funding as it moves forward.