Months of painstaking work in the laboratory at Bielefeld University‘s Center for Biotechnology (CeBiTec) have paid off: the 15 students participating in this year’s ‘international Genetically Engineered Machine competition’ (iGEM) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have good reason to celebrate.
The goal of their project was to develop a biological filter that removes estrogen from drinking water. It was a success: they managed to produce enzymes that break down the hormone. On Monday 5 November, the competition finals came to a close in Boston.From 190 teams throughout the world, Bielefeld’s students made it through to the ‘Sweet Sixteen’, the selection of the 16 best teams in the company of teams from such prestigious universities as Stanford University (USA), the Canadian University of Calgary, and Jiaotong University in Shanghai, China.
This year’s team, like its predecessors, made it into the ‘Sweet Sixteen’. ‘We stand in direct comparison with universities like Stanford and Cornell. At first, that seemed very intimidating, but we soon noticed they were having to fight exactly the same problems as we were. And with our know-how, we can match the pace here’, says Moritz Müller, a master student of molecular biotechnology.Enzymes from fungi growing on trees filter out medicine residues from sewage and drinking water
The Bielefeld iGEM team has developed a biological filter in which specific enzymes (so-called laccases) break down these medicine residues. One known source of particularly efficient laccases is the turkey tail, a type of fungus that grows on trees. Using methods from synthetic biology, the students succeeded in synthesizing this enzyme and applying it to filter material.
‘We didn’t want to invent something totally crazy with our project – just because it’s technically feasible. We wanted to do something that could actually be put to use in the near future, perhaps in 20 years, and be a real benefit’, explains Robert Braun, a master student of molecular biotechnology.‘The biofilter is such a project. And we have shown that our idea works. In principle, a company could now come along and develop our filter further. We ourselves have got to get back to our studies – most of us have rather neglected them for the last 6 months. However, the experiences we have gathered more than compensate for that’.
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