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UG Team Wins Funding for Synthetic Biology Contest  Jun 18, 2019

IISER Pune Undergraduate Team with Environmental Bioremediation Project Wins Competitive iBEC Funding for Synthetic Biology Contest

Increasing pollution in the river systems of India, such as lead, nickel, iron, copper, chromium and cadmium mercury and arsenic (CCW, 2014) suggests the need for urgent remedies. In particular, lead (Pb) is a known neurotoxin, which can cause learning disabilities and deformities in humans and fish even at low doses.

The IISER-Pune-India team for iGEM2019: (left to right) Yamini Mathur, Aarti Kejriwal, Sushmitha Hegde, Shubhankar Londhe, Sayantan Datta, Vinayak Tumuluri, Pranav SR, Nishant Baruah and Rupali Sathe

A team of undergraduates at IISER Pune with their PhD student mentors has been awarded a competitive grant from the Indian Biological Engineering Competition (iBEC), Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India. After rigorous assessment by experts of the scientific merit of the work and the solidity of the team, their proposal will be supported for registration and travel to present their results in November 2019 at the international contest iGEM (international genetically  engineered machines) Giant Jamboree.

iGEM is a global contest of synthetic biology with over 300 teams from prestigious universities like Heidelberg, Cambridge, Delft and Harvard, is designed similar to the robotics contests. Teams get about 6 months to deliver on their plans, to generate new forms of life to solve a problem of either scientific or societal value.

The project of the IISER Pune team will aim for at least a lab-scale proof of principle, which could be a first step in the larger goal. Under the supervision of Associate Professors Drs. Chaitanya Athale and Aurnab Ghose, they have proposed a synthetic biology approach to manipulate the DNA sequences to build a “genetic device” which has “sensors” that can bind to some of these metals and “reporters” to quantify them, using biomolecules, all expressed in a genetically modified version of the laboratory workhorse Escherichia coli. Together with an approach to soak up this metal by the bacterium, their proposal could help bring new approaches to metal bioremediation of river waters.

IISER Pune, a late entrant to the iGEM contests has already won a Bronze medal in 2015 and a Silver medal in 2017 for their medical diagnostics projects. With the support of both public and some provide funding agencies, the practical constraints have been removed and the team is excited to forge ahead with a summer of exciting experiments.

- With inputs from Dr. Chaitanya Athale