Synthetic Biology Team takes Genetic Research to International Competition

Thursday, December 10, 2015
Nick Edwards, Dani Bauhan and Mike Plaskett

Team members Nick Edwards, Dani Bauhan, and Mike Plaskett joined multidisciplinary teams from around the world at the iGEM Foundation's Giant Jamboree.

Biological research and engineering principles mesh in the synthetic biology lab at Rose-Hulman where a student team of four tackled gene manipulation as part of the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition.

For their project, students Dani Bauhan, Nick Edwards, Chris Kibler, and Mike Plaskett focused on regulating the expression of the MRPS12 gene which would control the function of mitochondrial ribosomes in yeast. The ribosomes are responsible for producing the proteins in the electron transport chain. Without them, aerobic respiration cannot occur.

"This project is important because of its applications in industrial processes that utilize fermentation," Bauman explains. "Without aerobic respiration, cells must rely on fermentation to produce energy, and during this process, the cell produces various secondary metabolites (such as ethanol) that are useful in a variety of applications."

The project was developed during the spring quarter in Associate Professor of Biology and Biomedical Engineering Ric Anthony's Synthetic Biology Design class, but the team did not begin work until summer.

"There were several challenges that we faced this summer. The project, like most research projects, had many small details that needed to be worked out before beginning the lab work, and there was the occasional instance that set us back a few days," Bauman says.

Those setbacks provide valuable lessons for the young scientists, according to Anthony. "Doing original research and discovering things that have never been known before is hard," he says. "You need to be able to get through things not working."

They continued to work on the project until they traveled to Boston for the iGEM Foundation's Giant Jamboree September 24-28, a gathering of 280 multidisciplinary teams from around the world. The research that the participants do adds to the body of knowledge in this leading edge field, and through this process, iGEM teams help advance the study of synthetic biology.

Anthony adds that synthetic biology will become increasingly important as that body of knowledge grows. "It's an area that in the future is going to provide solutions to many of the most difficult problems we face," he says.

But for Bauman, the opportunity to meet people from around the world and learn about their projects was the best part of the competition.

"It was incredible to be surrounded by so many people with a passion for this type of biology," she says.