Improving TB Diagnostics through Synthetic Biology
A team of seven undergraduates who competed in the “olympics” of synthetic biology, the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) contest, have won a silver medal at the GiantJamboree that took place from 9-13 November 2017 in Boston, USA. Over a period of six months, 310 teams with students from 44 countries participated in making innovative, useful and simply artistic projects which use the modularity of DNA to reprogram simple organisms such as E. coli bacteria.
The IISER Pune team members which included seven BS-MS students Aarti Kejriwal, Avani Koparkar, Yash Joshi, S. Jyothish, Zakhiya P. C., R. Charvee and Saumil Shah, worked on a project that in the spirit of iGEM was called “TB or not TB”. The project aimed to design a novel TB diagnostic system, based on a genetic delivery system and a chromophore reporter. During their project they developed multiple genetic constructs that they contributed to the OpenSource repository, BioBricks. Their strategy to address potential safety concerns for genetically modified pathogens got them a nomination for safety commendation, eventually going on to win a silver medal. The team was supervised by two Masters students Yash Jawale and Snehal Kadam and Kunalika Jain, a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Chaitanya Athale in Biology at IISER Pune.
The project combined science outreach – also referred to in the iGEM world as human practices- with mathematical modelling, genetic engineering of E. coli bacteria, microscopy and spectrometry, and fund raising for the proof of concept work. The IISER-Pune-India team also hosted the second India Meetup where seven Indian teams and one from Pakistan (via Skype) presented updates on their work. The project was hosted in the IISER Pune Biology labs, with funding from the institute and sponsorship from Lupin Pvt. Ltd and Anarde Foundation, a medical NGO.
– by Avani Koparkar and Chaitanya A. Athale