Producing propane from cellulose with help of bacteria – iGEM competition

Blog - Published 3.8.2015

Milla-Mari_VastavuoAugust 3, 2015

iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) is an international synthetic biology competition. Our team consists of four students from Aalto University and six from the University of Helsinki. We have a diverse range of background including molecular biosciences, environmental management, chemistry and biotechnology. iGEM foundation is the organisation who is arranging the competition. The competition has originated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and nowadays the Giant Jamboree is held every year in Boston, MA.

The competition is arranged for the 11th time this autumn and last year Finland participated for the first time in the competition. The team was gathered by student efforts and the universities gave support in the science part and working space for the laboratory work.

Both high school and university students can participate in the competition in different classes, where university teams are divided in two series: undergraduates and overgraduates. Our team fulfilled the criteria to compete in undergraduate series, all members being under 24 years old. However, some of our team members will turn over the age limit during the competition.

A group photo and photos from laboratory.

We didn’t know each other from before and the first meeting was in March. The previous team interviewed and chose the new team. Currently, we have been working since the first meeting and full time for one and a half month.

Right from the start in March we began brainstorming and we resulted with over 20 ideas for our research topic. The next step was to find background information and scope our ideas. Every year there is around 200 new research topics, which causes difficulties in finding a topic not already researched. Finally, we made our decision based on the found articles, opinions of the team members and estimated time limits. We ended up with a plan, where we want to create a metabolism pathway for E. coli bacteria producing propane utilizing cellulose as a carbon source. While searching for background information, we came across an article by a research group at the University of Turku. The group had created a bacteria producing propane from glucose. Our topic was combined of two different ideas we had in the first place. We wanted to produce energy sustainably utilizing bacteria and break down waste.

At the moment, our lab team is waiting for sequence orders to arrive, so we can get started with our actual work. While waiting, we are participating in a broad measuring project arranged by iGEM, where teams around the world build corresponding bacterial strains. These strains produce fluorescent light and the measured data is delivered to iGEM. The purpose of this project is to prove that they are comparable.

Laboratory work and group work with laptops.

Along the summer we have been in contact with other iGEM teams, sharing experiences and setbacks. Even though, this is a competition the main goal of the whole event is to learn and develop new things together. The collaboration will be taken into account in the judging.

Our project culminates in the Giant Jamboree held in Boston in the end of September. The event gathers nearly 300 teams from over 50 different countries. However, before Boston we will get experience in advance from the Nordic Jamboree held in Uppsala. The event will be in end of July and we will meet other nordic teams from Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

It is very seldom to get a chance to collaborate with students from other universities, which makes this a unique experience to work with students from very diverse backgrounds. On top of our laboratory work, we code our own website, create a mathematical model for the reaction pathway and teach about synthetic biology and also tell about our own research in events directed for the youth.

We would happily want to know how you would utilize synthetic biology in forest industry. Please comment below and visit our website! We also try to be active in the social media. Facebook | Twitter

Writer Milla-Mari Vastavuo is a team member of Aalto-Helsinki iGEM, studying Bioproduct Technology at Aalto University.

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