Over the past months I was supervising and helping the current iGEM Team from Freiburg in their Journey towards the Grand Jamboree. This weekend, we finally had the opportunity to present our work – CELLECT.
I encourage everyone to read the full story on the wiki of our team. The project started out with the aim to increase production of Vitamin B12 in E.coli bacteria. The cells produce B12 naturally but their efficiency will be subject to internal variability. In order to sustain high-performing and filter out less performant cells, the team wanted to couple the production system to the also naturally occurring Toxin-Antitoxin System of MazE/MazF. This coupling inhibits toxin production and thus ensures low toxin concentration when B12 is produced at sufficient levels. If a cell does not produce enough B12, toxin production is not inhibited and will thus ultimately kill the cell. We noticed that this type of auto regulatory system is capable of not only working for B12 but can be applied to a much wider range of problems.
Last Thursday the team had the opportunity to present their work in front of the judges. Despite some initial technical difficulties on the side of the organizers with online-judges and the presentation screen, the team pulled of a convincing pitch. They were well prepared for any questions we even spoke at length with one of the judges who was particularly excited about our project and came to meet us at our booth. Two days later, it was time to present in public. And again, the team was well prepared and rose to the challenge, delivering a flawless presentation.
On the final day, the winners for all prizes and nominees were announced. Our team was nominated in Best Wiki, Best New Composite Part and Best Foundational Advance Project. Furthermore, we got under top 10 of all 105 overgrad teams, bringing us in the 90th percentile. This is truly a remarkable achievement for a team which is largely made up from undergraduates themselves.
As a supervisor I can look back with much delight. It was a truly inspiring and refreshing experience. Sometimes you end up getting caught in your work, running around in circles and rethinking life as a whole. But not with this team. The enthusiasm and pragmatic “we can and will do it” mentality of these young spirits is second to none. I was able to not only witness the great achievements of this team but also their character developing and adapting under an extremely pressuring time schedule. Employers watch out for these guys!