Two local students at the University of Dundee have won two prizes at the world final of a prestigious international competition.
Rachel Findlay from Forfar and Kyle Buchan from Kirriemuir returned home victorious with their fellow team members after picking up the awards at the competition which is designed to advance science and education.
They were among the 10 students from the university who won the European Jamboree of the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition in Lyon last month, booking them a place in the world final in Boston for Best Presentation and the `iGEMers Prize’, given to the project voted best by the students taking part.
Staff advisor Professor Tracy Palmer congratulated the winning team, saying: “This has been an amazing experience for our students and we are delighted that they have performed so well and are coming home with two of the big prizes from the event.”
The overall first prize was taken by Heidelberg, who Dundee had beaten in the European event.
Professor Palmer continued: “There are different judges for the world final so the results can change from the European event to the overall event.
“The judges were extremely impressed with the presentation skills of the Dundee team, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the students engaging with public and the media. It is great as well to be recognised by their peers in the competition with the iGEMers Prize.”
This is the third year Dundee has been represented in the highly competitive, worldwide, iGEM Competition aimed at undergraduate university students. Dundee won successive gold medals at the 2011 and 2012 European Jamborees but this year was the first time they have been named as overall winners.
The competition requires students to use a kit of biological parts (issued by iGEM at the beginning of the summer) and to use these (and new parts of their own design) to build biological systems and operate them in living cells at laboratories in their own universities.
The Dundee team has devised a project called ‘Toxi-Mop’ which uses synthetic biology to engineer harmless laboratory strains of bacteria to ‘clean up’ water that has become contaminated with toxic algal blooms. The local value of this became apparent in the summer when the warm weather led to algal blooms in Clatto Reservoir and in the boating pond at Camperdown Country Park.
The team has also built a device (‘the Mop-topus’) that can be housed permanently at a lake or pond, which will continuously monitor the temperature, pH and light levels that can be used to predict the likelihood of future algal blooms.
The 2013 Dundee inter-collegiate team comprises 10 undergraduate students: Kyle Harrison (applied computing), Nasir Ahmad (physics), Craig Johnston (mathematics), Rachel Findlay (mathematical biology), as well as Christopher Earl, Philip Rodger, Ewa Grabowiecka, Kyle Buchan, John Allan and Alice Rowan from Life Sciences.
The iGEM Foundation, which runs the competition, seeks to promote the advancement of science and education by developing an open community of students and practitioners in schools, laboratories, research institutes, and industry - in particular by involving students and the public in the development of the new field of synthetic biology.