Mid-Atlantic iGEM Meetup 2015
This year we had the amazing opportunity of hosting our first ever regional iGEM meetup at the University of Maryland. This meetup provided an opportunity for iGEM teams from around the region to come together mid-way through their projects to learn from each other, practice presenting, build relationships for future collaboration, and acquire valuable feedback from their peers. The University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, Duke University, and Rock Ridge high School were all in attendance. Each team gave a 25 minute presentation of their project including their progress, goals, and any difficulties they experience so far, followed by a Q&A period with the audience.
Supplementing the presentations given by each team were several guest speakers who kindly helped make the meetup a great and informative learning experience and expand the context of what we are doing with iGEM to issues beyond the lab on a national and global scale.
Special Agent Edward You of the FBI spoke about the relationship between iGEM and the future of national security as synthetic biology and DIY and community labs continue to grow with the growth of iGEM, and his work in creating a strong relationship between the biology community and the law enforcement to promote biosecurity without hindering progress.
Distinguished Professor Raymond St. Leger of the University of Maryland dept. of Entomology gave a presentation entitled "Designer Pathogens" featuring a vast array of his research group's synthetic biology projects. The main project involved a series of experiments that incorporated toxins from fungi and receptors from bacteria that would spread disease among mosquitos in Africa, combating the transmision malaria. Results proved effective enough to advance to open field trials.
Because of this meet-up, we were able to further collaborate in several ways with teams in attendance. We learned that Duke University was also attempting to build a DIY Thermocycler, We were able to offer some guidance to Rock Ridge High School, and had some collaboration on the Interlab Study with the College of William and Mary.
Duke and PCR
Our collaboration with Duke started during the regional meet up. We came to an understanding that our machines were heading down similar paths, at the time. We understood that our teams had the same list of hardware, peltier elements, Arduino microprocessors, and motor controllers. Seeing that our goals were aligned we thought the best probability of success for our teams would come from a collaboration. We set up an email conversation with Duke and began exchanging weekly conversations about how we were progressing and sending each other pictures of our progress. When we ran into issues with our peltier units we spoke to Duke and warned them of the potential issues, and through the subsequent conversations with them we were able to conclude that the peltier platform was not ideal for PCR. We therefore switched gears and moved to designing a hairdryer based unit. Without a collaboration with Duke and the ability to have an open forum to discuss ideas we might have failed to recognize the short coming of our first device.
Rock Ridge Virginia and Project Design
After Rock Ridge presented their initial project design at the meetup, several of our members collaborated with their team to discuss the feasibility and direction of their project. Fortunately, several of our members has already discussed the possibility of undertaking a project that was very similar in nature to Rock Ridge's project. As a result, we had already completed the necessary research to advise Rock Ridge on their project that focused on the causative agent of lyme disease. We advised them of possible gene candidates and alterations to their proposed constructs. Our team also offered our similar project proposal for a novel lyme disease biosensor to Rock Ridge as an alternative option for them to undertake.
W&M and Interlab
Due to unfortunate circumstances pertaining to the reliability of cloning, we were unable to acquire one of the interlab study parts. Fortunately W&M send us the construct to permit us to proceed to testing. We must remark that they sent it dried up on a piece of paper, though shipment took less than a day, as we were just in the next boardering state.
Update after the 2015 Jamboree
We congratulate William and Mary on their many awards, among which was the most esteemed, undergraduate Grand Prize! They have proven themselves a powerhouse and represented our region well, and we hope to collaborate with them to achieve great things in the future!