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IISER Pune students bag silver medal at global event for Tuberculosis diagnostics through synthetic biology 

The team members included Bachelor and Masters (BS-MS) dual degree programme students Aarti Kejriwal, Avani Koparkar, Yash Joshi, S Jyothish, Zakhiya PC, R Charvee and Saumil Shah, who worked on a project titled ‘TB or not TB’ aimed at designing a novel TB diagnostic system.

pune Updated: Nov 23, 2017 15:07 IST
Ananya Barua
Ananya Barua
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,IISER,science
The student team from IISER after winning the silver medal at the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) contest. (HT PHOTO)

A team of seven undergraduates from theIndian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, won a silver medal in theinternational Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) contest at the Giant Jamboree for their project on Tuberculosis (TB) diagnostics through synthetic biology. The competition was held in Boston, USA, from November 9 to 13.

The team members included Bachelor and Masters (BS-MS) dual degree programme students Aarti Kejriwal, Avani Koparkar, Yash Joshi, S Jyothish, Zakhiya PC, R Charvee and Saumil Shah, who worked on a project titled ‘TB or not TB’aimed at designing a novel TB diagnostic system.

Explaining the body of the work,Dr Chaitanya Athale, the supervisor of the project, said,“Within the constraints of synthetic biology, teams had to find a plan to either solve a real-world problem, some fundamental problems in biology or just generate art, using the genetic circuits that can be made by assembling the parts. From May to October, the team worked on sequences to generate a colour in bacteria, based on the presence of a protein and successfully demonstrated that it can lead to coloured cells. The project was to deliver a gene, using a virus that usually targets the causative agent of TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, in a low cost manner.”

This year, over a period of six months, 310 teams with over 3,000 students from 44 countries participated in creating innovative, useful and artistic projects which use the modularity of DNA to reprogram simple organisms.

“Considering the vastness, the competition is the'Olympics' of synthetic biology.Some iGEM projects, even from India, have taken off as independent startup companies. The opportunity to use an academic project to explore real-world problems and then share them with other participants both builds the international community of sharing and helps in working towards a common good, while also brings new challenges. Addressing some of the challenges, for the past few years, the federal bureau of investigation (FBI) of the USA also held seminars on bio-safety. So, the exposure for the participating students is tremendous,” said Athale.

With the silver medal, the research has found international recognition, but Athale shared how the journey had a number of challenges. One of the major concern was regarding safety in terms of thegenetically modified pathogens.

“We adhere to S1 level (lowest) level of safety including segregation of waste, sterilisation before final discard, sterile working at the workbench and adhering to standard safety practices. As a proof of concept project, pathogens werent used but thedanger was contamination of our own samples by bacteria from other experiments in the shared lab,” he added.

He added that although the medal and exposure has been enlightening for the students, the final dream is far ahead.

“As bacterial resistance to antibiotics will make rapid diagnostics essential in future, we hope to extend the research andget in touch with clinicians to see if this is something they’d like to test in a diagnostic lab setting,” Athale said.

First Published: Nov 23, 2017 15:06 IST