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Manchester-Graz: the first inter-European iGEM team


Due to existing collaboration between the University of Manchester and the Graz University of technology in several research programs, such as CHEM21 and KYROBIO (European research projects), we came together as the first truly international cross-country iGEM team, supervised by professors Eriko Takano, Rainer Breitling and Sabine Flitsch in Manchester, and Anton Glieder in Graz. For the Austrian postgraduate subteam, this was a chance to enter the competition for the first time, with the support of the undergraduate students from Manchester, who could build on previous iGEM experience at their university. Once the joint team was formed, weekly Skype meetings were held to agree on a project, taking advantage of the collaboration to cover a wider area of research than would be possible as individual teams. We found working together as an international team challenging, and the distance required us to find a topic that could be worked on independently whilst still achieving a common goal. Overcoming this challenge, coupled with the exchange of knowledge and experience between the sub-teams, makes working on this project all the more rewarding.

Our idea emerged from the different fields of interest of the students in Graz and Manchester, with the former wanting to generate a regulation system for protein synthesis, and the latter being more focused on medical aspects such as the synthesis of a drug.

The result was a quorum sensing based system for the autonomous production of L-DOPA and dopamine, with the students in Manchester working on the synthesis of L-DOPA and the students in Graz setting up an expression system that allows autonomous induction of several target genes. Using the advantage of two teams we can apply the L-DOPA pathway directly in a new system, which can already be evaluated in a real world context.

There are also numerous advantages for our team outside the science. Public outreach and human practices (a particular area of interest) are more efficiently conducted across the two countries and yield more interesting data. Different attitudes towards synthetic biology and modern biotechnology can be determined on an international scale, in Austria and the United Kingdom respectively. In addition, the potential to gain valuable knowledge from interviews with experts in industry, medicine and patient care are greatly broadened as is the possibility for raising awareness about Parkinson’s and synthetic biology.