The Tufts iGEM team worked together with a number of other iGEM teams this summer, building connections and helping to bring all of our projects closer to our goals. Tufts iGEM worked with many other teams from the New England area for each NEGEM meetup, giving feedback and constructive criticism for other projects, presentations, wikis, and outreach work. One of our suggestions for the Boston University team’s project, specifically that they apply their protein control system to gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9, actually became a whole new direction for their project!
We were also able to put University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in contact with a number of experts in the field of bacteriophage engineering. Their project involves the genetic manipulation of bacteriophage in order to create a therapy for H. pylori infections. Having previously worked on a project that involved an engineered phagemid system, and having held a conference last year titled The Future of Phage and Synthetic Biology, we had experience and connections we were able to share with the Umass Dartmouth Team. We put them in contact with the PI, as well as postdocs and PhD candidates, for a lab working on bacteriophage engineering; a professor who worked on bacteriophage genomics (and who discovered the CRIPSR/Cas system within a bacteriophage); individuals from a company (Sample6) working on bacteriophage engineering; a Harvard law professor with expertise in the healthcare system, and finally a scientific journalist who had written a book on the history of bacteriophage therapy. We also spoke with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth team about the difficulties that can arise from bacteriophage engineering, namely that phage in general must be very optimized and streamlined to survive and proliferate, and thus extensive modifications, or large additions often pose a tremendous selective burden on the phage. Thus, making lasting modifications to phage populations can be difficult unless you build a very precisely controlled environment in which to grow them. We also spoke with the team regarding the ethical and safety implications regarding the engineering of bacteriophage.
We have also worked with and mentored the Westford Academy iGEM team, answering technical questions and assisting them in setting up their project involving finding new methods of making bacteria competent. Our mentorship has consisted mostly of advice, and sending protocols.