Cornell iGEM: Building Living Machines
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Cornell University's Genetically Engineered Machines Team
Cornell iGEM is an international award-winning engineering project team composed of over 25 students drawn from various disciplines and levels of expertise across the university. The team’s mission is to design and develop a novel genetically modified platform, using the principles of synthetic biology, to compete at the world’s premier synthetic biology competition - international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM). Past projects include developing a biological filtration device using bacteria engineered to remove heavy metals from contaminated waters and a “BioFactory” for the cell-free synthesis of complex biomolecules. We believe that synthetic biology and the ability to engineer life itself can offer breakthrough answers to the many needs of the industry, environment, and economy.
This Year’s Project
For the upcoming 2015 competition cycle, Cornell iGEM will use the tools of synthetic biology to help ensure global food security, an ever-pressing concern given the world’s rising population. Salmonid fish, including salmon and trout, are one of the top leading agricultural exports in America and contribute to vital aquaculture industries in many countries including Vietnam, Norway, and Chile. Unfortunately, thousands of these otherwise viable or edible fish are wasted each year due to bacterial cold water disease (BCWD). BCWD is a potentially lethal bacterial infection caused by the pathogen Flavobacterium psychrophilum, and is commonly found on fish farms and hatcheries where fish are raised in close quarters. There currently does not exist an industrial solution to combatting such a disease. Antibiotics are being used to treat BCWD, but these antibiotics remain in the food we consume, leach into the ocean or soil surrounding farms, and give bacteria the opportunity to develop resistance.
Another option is to feed fish bacterial probiotics; recently, a certain peptide called ecnB has been implicated in providing resistance in one such probiotic. This year, Cornell iGEM will engineer bacteria to test similar peptides from the larger class of peptides called entericidins to evaluate their utility as probiotic treatments against BCWD. Additionally, the team will develop a delivery system for these peptides that aligns with current feeding and tagging practices on fish farms. Upon completion of this project, Cornell iGEM will have designed an alternative, safe, and effective means of fighting bacterial cold water disease to help alleviate a major food security concern in salmon-dependent industries and communities.
Broadening Member Experience
Cornell iGEM provides undergraduates with an interest in biological research and engineering an opportunity to brainstorm, design and build their own project from start to end. The team is composed of multiple subteams including wetlab, drylab, policy and practices, programming, and business. Students are free to join multiple subteams, which allows team members to not only view each year’s project from multiple perspectives, but also to apply their skills to a diverse array of research goals. Cornell iGEM engages its members in a learning process that teaches students how to apply their academic instruction to real-world applications, uniquely preparing them for team-based projects in the biological field.
Improving our Local Community
Our team prides itself in fostering a meaningful impact on our local and global communities by engaging with Cornell University, Tompkins County, and beyond. To do so, Cornell iGEM has visited the Ithaca Sciencenter, 4-H STEM Camps, and Sustainability Center to help promote safety with regard to the controversial field of synthetic biology. In addition, we have developed a social media platform called "Humans and SynBio" in collaboration with other iGEM teams from across the world to spread awareness of synthetic biology. By sponsoring Cornell iGEM, not only will you contribute to the success of the team, but also helping to fund the scientific engagement of our local community.
We Need Your Help!
As an undergraduate project team, Cornell iGEM relies on outside donations and sponsorships to complete our projects and compete at annual competitions. Your generous contributions would provide us with necessary lab equipment and supplies to develop a treatment for BCWD. Our wet lab research requires materials such as primers, enzymes, and kits; just these three materials together can cost over three thousand dollars throughout the course of a single project. Cornell iGEM invites you to join us in our efforts to achieve food security throughout the world and advance the field of synthetic biology for years to come.