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Engineering biology undergraduate team going to Paris to present their work on bio-based pesticide remediation

Warwick’s latest iGEM team are due to present their project in Paris after working on novel synthetic biology research over the summer.

For the 8th year in a row, the University of Warwick has supported an interdisciplinary team of undergraduates to take part in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition; a synthetic biology competition aiming to engineer microbes to do useful things. The School of Engineering’s UG Research Internship scheme supported Zak Fulk, now a third-year biomedical engineering student, to take part.

The team committed early to the environmental track offered by iGEM, given the problems they felt could be tackled both locally and further afield using known synthetic biology approaches. Working with life scientists, chemists, a computer scientist and an economist, Zak and the team designed and engineered a novel microbe to degrade an insecticide frequently used across the UK. The team developed an aptamer-based biosensor and cell surface expression system to offer new routes to sensing and destroying the pesticide.

Zak lead the team’s engineering design approach, developing mathematical models of microbial growth and using multi-objective optimisation techniques to identify designs which rapidly degrade the pesticide whilst maintaining colony growth.

Zak said, “The opportunity to provide Engineering insights within an interdisciplinary team, allowed me to feel like my work was truly contributive”

The team was supervised by Dr Fabrizio Alberti (UKRI FLF, Life Science) and Dr Alexander Darlington (RAEng Research Fellow, Engineering).

Dr Darlington said, “Not only have this year’s team carried out some truly amazing science in the 8 weeks over the summer, with everything from mastering new chemical analysis techniques to developing novel mathematical design methods, but they have actively engaged with farmers, pesticide manufactures, environmental NGOs and water treatment companies to ensure that their new technologies are developed with users and society in mind”.

The eight undergraduate students and Dr Fabrizio Alberti will attend the Grand Jamboree in Paris between the 26th and 28th of October, alongside 350 other university teams from around the world.

Zak ended by saying: “I am grateful to the School of Engineering and would recommend future students to look to iGEM for an engaging and exciting summer research experience.”

A link to the iGEM page can be found here:

Follow our progress here: @warwickigem