As Innovative Learning Week 2013 draws to a close, I once again find myself on the bus to King’s Buildings, this time headed to the Daniel Rutherford building, to see the School of Biological Science’s iGEM presentation. Originating within the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation aims to encourage the next generation of scientists to take a new approach to their education, and their annual competition affords students the opportunity to undertake their own scientific research in the field of synthetic biology.
It is an event which has been quite long time coming. Edinburgh’s team of three hand-picked Biology undergraduates have spent the past few months investigating the extraction of essential oils from E. coli bacteria, with a view to them being used as preservatives in the manufacturing of food. As their final presentation showed, it was a project which has examined not only the processes involved in producing a yield of these essential oils, but also the implications of global food wastage and how synthetic biology is taking steps to combat this. The team’s presentation was then followed by a short question and answer session with their audience, made up of fellow students and also representatives from iGEM.
Though the students themselves are selected for the competition, it is entirely up to them what issue or area they wish to tackle. The students devoted many hours of research and lab-time to the project, but all the hard work seems to have been worth it. “The competition gives you a chance to work on something which is a precursor to the real thing, and we had a lot of fun!” explained Aritha Dornau, one of the students from the Edinburgh team. Let’s hope we see many more innovative and exciting things from them in the future!