Dundee iGEM team scores a hat-trick at world jamboree

A team of students from the University of Dundee has won an unprecedented hat-trick of major prizes at the iGEM world jamboree in Boston for their project to develop `The Lung Ranger’, a device to help combat some of the effects of cystic fibrosis.

iGEM – the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition – asks students to tackle a real world problem by designing and building a new device or system from a kit of biological parts.

The Dundee team this year chose to work on cystic fibrosis, a disease which is found worldwide but is particularly prevalent in Scotland, where approximately 1 in 2000 babies are born with the condition. Cystic fibrosis results in the production of highly viscous mucous in the lungs that can be colonised by bacteria, resulting in repeated respiratory infections.

They developed the Lung Ranger, which is made up of the harmless laboratory bacterium E. coli that has been engineered to glow green when either of the most aggressive lung pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Burkholderia cenocepacia are detected in the sputum (mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract). The team also built a hand-held electronic device that can be used by the patient or their GP that will rapidly detect the light produced by the bacteria, allowing a quick and sensitive diagnosis of the presence of these pathogens. This will allow faster and more targeted treatment of the infection than is currently available.

At the iGEM jamboree in Boston, the world finals for the competition, the Dundee team won the best project in the Health and Medicine track, the best Policy and Practices (Outreach) prize, and the prized iGemmers Award, which goes to the team nominated best by their peers. It is the second year in a row Dundee has taken the iGemmers Award.

Professor Tracy Palmer, who worked with the team on their project, said, “This is a fantastic achievement by our iGem team and builds on a great run of success for our students. The team developed an idea into a product that could have real impact for patients with Cystic Fibrosis. They have impressed all of us with their imagination, dedication and discipline and it was great to see the impact they had on the iGem judges and fellow competitors.”

The iGEM team is interdisciplinary and is comprised of University of Dundee undergraduate students including Dave Burrell (Computing Science), Gillian Forsyth (Mathematical Biology), Scott McCrimmon (Plant Sciences),  Roddy McNeill (Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery), Jessica Martyn (Microbiology), Dimitrios Michailidis (Molecular Microbiology), Aleksandra Plochocka (Mathematics), Robyn Shuttleworth (Mathematics), Fatima Ulhuq (Pharmacology) and Jenny Wood (Molecular Microbiology).

The team emulated the success of last year’s `Toximop’ project which scooped two of the main prizes at the 2013 iGEM world jamboree.

Roddy Isles
Head of Press
TEL: 01382 384910
MOBILE: 07800 581902
E-MAIL: r.isles@dundee.ac.uk