Hi there! We’re Dalhousie iGEM.
iGEM or the International Genetically Engineered Machine is a global initiative that encourages students to use synthetic biology to solve real world problems. Our interdisciplinary team is comprised of undergraduate students and graduate mentors from a variety of faculties including Computer Science, Medical Science, and Management.
For our project we wanted to solve a global issue using local resources. As the amount of available fossil fuels decreases, there is a huge need to develop renewable energies. We are creating a system to produce biofuel, a renewable fuel, using waste from the forestry industry. A prominent component of forestry waste is cellulose, a hard-to-digest carbohydrate found in plants. Cellulose can be converted into the biofuel, ethanol, making it an ideal starting material for biofuel production. Currently, there are inefficient and environmentally-expensive ways to convert cellulose into ethanol, thus our first challenge was to create a better conversion system.
The diverse collection of bacteria present in the gut (also called the gut microbiome) is in part influenced by our diet, as we rely heavily on these microbes to help digest our food. This relationship between gut microorganisms and diet can be observed in many other animals. Due to this relationship, we reasoned that the porcupine, which feeds on tree bark, leaves, and flowers, would have bacteria within its gut microbiome to help digest the cellulose found in its woody diet. Sure enough, the porcupine microbiome contains cellulose-digesting bacteria! We are in the process of taking the genes encoding the proteins involved in cellulose digestion from the porcupine gut bacterium, and putting them to work in our own system. We’ve been working throughout the whole summer to make this happen, and are now getting ready to present our research at the international iGEM conference in Boston. We’ll be the only Atlantic Canadian team presenting our research to an audience of researchers, industry leaders, and students from around the world.
After a summer of hard work, we are ready to present our findings!
Each year, iGEM holds a global competition called the Giant Jamboree. We will be representing Dalhousie as the only team from Atlantic Canada competing in the competition. The event is four days long and will give us an opportunity to present our work to researchers, judges, students, and industry leaders from around the world.
Our goal is to send 9 of our teammates to represent Dalhousie at the iGEM Giant Jamboree held in Boston from November 9th-13th 2017. iGEM teams from around the world come together each year at the Giant Jamboree to present their findings, develop leadership and networking skills, and learn about advancements in synthetic biology.
Our goal of $10,000 will be used for conference registration, transportation, and accommodations for our team members.
At the event, we will have the opportunity to meet with industry experts that can help us get our idea from the lab and into action. By helping us attend the conference, you are not only sending a group of students on an opportunity of a life time, but you will have a part in reducing Nova Scotia’s carbon footprint.