MIT team bags gold at iGEM 2020

Manipal BioMachines (MBM), a synthetic biology research team from Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, bagged the gold medal on its first attempt at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM 2020). The result was announced at the iGEM Giant Jamboree, hosted virtually from November 13 to 23.

The iGEM Foundation is an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology and applied biotechnology. It encourages scientific innovation through annual competition that witnesses more than 6,000 participants from various disciplines across the globe. The teams had to submit videos, a poster and a website documenting all information related to their project within stringent deadlines. The competition took place over the summer of 2020, and 249 teams participated from 36 countries.

The foundation chose to find an effective, long-term and novel solution to methylmercury poisoning - nicknamed ‘Breaking Bond’. Humans exposed to methylmercury through contaminated fish could experience neurological problems. “By designing a probiotic pill that converts methylmercury to elemental mercury - which is less toxic, we hope to provide a solution to methylmercury poisoning to a large number of people, both in terms of cost as well as usability,” said Varun Udaya Kumar, Manipal BioMachines team leader.

The team worked on designing experiments to obtain the proof of concept for their probiotic bacteria keeping in mind the conditions in the gut environment. A small-scale hardware device was also designed by the team that can simulate the gut conditions. Beyond the technology, the team was also evaluated on teamwork, responsibility, entrepreneurship, collaborations, safety and more.

The team of 21 students comprised Niyati Sanghvi, Soumodeep Sarkar, Adithi Somayaji, Shravan Balasubramaniam, and Sanya Lakhotia amongst others. They were mentored by Ritu Raval and Praveen Kumar, Associate Professor and Assistant Professor at the Department of Biotechnology, MIT, Manipal.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 7:27:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/mit-team-bags-gold-at-igem-2020/article33197385.ece

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