Distinction of iGEM Athens 2020 student team in the global iGEM synthetic biology competition
The inter-institutional collaboration of undergraduate students won a Silver Medal in the World Competition of Synthetic Biology iGEM 2020, which took place online on 14 - 22 November 2020. The team consists of twelve undergraduate students, Mrs Marianna Ioannidou and Mr Andreas - Athanasios Tzonzo Dekmak from the Department of Biotechnology of the Agricultural University of Athens, Mrs Orsalia-Zoe Veloudiou from the Department of Medicine of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Mr. Spyros Kanellopoulos, Mrs Kalliopi Belegri and Mr George Broutzaki from the Department of Biology of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Mr Dimos Aslanis, Eleftheria Kelefioti Stratidaki, Kleoniki Pylarinou, Vassilia Spyridaki and Elias Toumbe from the School of Chemical Engineering of the National Technical University of Athens and Mr. Natalia Salpea from the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering
The main problem that preoccupied the team is the toxicity of the dyes used in numerous everyday products. The goal of the MORPHÆ project was to produce an innovative colored and biodegradable material that can be used to replace materials coated with toxic, human and environmental dyes. Inspired by colors in nature that may be due to either chemical dyes or the natural structure of surfaces, the team makes use of bacterial strains that show structural color when forming biofilms. This phenomenon is caused by spatial geometries on the nanometer scale, which interact with light by rules of optics. Bacteria of the genus Flavobacterium, which naturally show structural color, will be genetically modified to produce a material that is colored because it retains the above spatial property. The material chosen to be produced is bacterial cellulose, a durable biopolymer whose production was designed to be transferred from other derived strains. This process was validated by simulations and computational models to predict the conditions under which the preservation of structural color would be achieved.
Unfortunately, the conditions that prevailed this year due to the pandemic, did not favor the realization of the idea in the laboratory and therefore the experimental design will be applied in order to produce the complete product, during the second phase of the competition to be held in 2021.
As part of the group's involvement with the project, multiple discussions were held with experts from different fields, in order to obtain a global picture of both the problem to be addressed and to discuss the practices for dealing with it. In addition, one of the goals of the group was to simplify the science and communication of synthetic biology with the general public, which was achieved through online actions in which the group participated. The project of the iGEM Athens team met the criteria of the competition for the silver category and is posted on the official website https://2020.igem.org/Team:Athens, while it was also awarded for the best promotional video of the competition in the undergraduate category project.
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