iGEM Team Earns Silver Medal at International Competition

iGEM team
iGEM Team Earns Silver Medal
Jazmine Reyes, Jacob Aubrey, and Julia Alvarenga
iGEM Team Earns Silver Medal
Derek Yashinski, Liam Buchanan, Jacob Aubrey, Jazmine Reyes, and Julia Alvarenga
iGEM Team Earns Silver Medal
iGEM Presentation

After more than a year of research, late nights in the lab and practice, five members of SUNY Oneonta’s 2022 iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team presented their project in Paris this week while competing in the iGEM Grand Jamboree, an annual event showcasing the projects of more than 400 teams from around the world.

Despite being one of the only teams from a public liberal arts college in an event dominated by large research universities, the SUNY Oneonta team won a silver medal for the third consecutive time.

“This is a phenomenal result,” said Associate Professor Kelly Gallagher, who advises the team alongside Associate Professor Jill Fielhaber. “There appeared to be a larger-than-usual group of bronze medals this year, so a silver is a huge accomplishment. Our team really held their own alongside much larger teams from very well-endowed research universities. We are extremely pleased with the results.”

The team – made up of biology, chemistry, biochemistry, earth science and computer science students – arrived in Paris on Tuesday, Oct. 25, and presented to a panel of judges Wednesday. When not preparing and practicing, they spent time staffing their team booth, attending conference sessions and workshops, and networking. They also did some sightseeing, visiting the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, going out for team dinners, and celebrating their silver medal with a river cruise on the Seine.

iGEM pressentation
iGEM pressentation

"CyanoSpectre"

Inside the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles – the largest venue in Europe, just 15 minutes from the Eiffel Tower – the team went toe-to-toe with students from 40 other countries, presenting projects on how to solve local problems, all over the world, using synthetic biology. Teams design, build, test and measure systems of their own creation using interchangeable biological parts and standard techniques of molecular biology.

The SUNY Oneonta iGEM team’s project, "CyanoSpectre," involved engineering a cyanophage "toolkit" that other synthetic biologists can use to make it easier to genetically engineer and build beneficial properties into cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are fast emerging as sustainable biotechnologies in the world of synthetic biology. They are used to produce plastics, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, biofuels and more, giving the team’s work an extremely practical purpose.

iGEM pressentation
iGEM pressentation

Lifelong Skills

LiamBuchanan
Liam Buchanan

This is SUNY Oneonta’s fourth iGEM team and third time competing in the Grand Jamboree. Liam Buchanan, a biology major from Levittown, NY, and a senior, has been on the iGEM team since his freshman year. 

“What keeps me coming back is just the atmosphere and the opportunity,” Buchanan said. “As an undergrad, it can be hard to find research. As a first-year student involved with iGEM, I was doing things and learning techniques that I hadn’t even learned about in class yet. Being able to come to a lab and have at my fingertips the same opportunities that a research institution would allow me to have has been incredible.”

Jazmine Reyes
Jazmine Reyes

The competition, which requires collaboration with other teams, gives students experience working with others and networking, as well. In the past, Oneonta students have collaborated with teams from Russia and Sweden, and this year the team worked with Maastricht University in Netherlands. After their public presentation, one of the students, chemistry major Jacob Aubrey, got to meet Peter Weigele, who sequenced Syn5 at MIT years ago. (Syn5 is a bacterial virus that the Oneonta iGEM team used as a reference genome for much of its project.)

“We get to communicate with experts in the field, and that’s really exciting,” said Jazmine Reyes, a biochemistry major from Bronx, NY. “iGEM is not just about synthetic biology – we’re learning and honing soft skills like communication as a team, writing skills, how to present your research, do the elevator pitch, educational outreach – so many important things that we’ll take with us for the rest of our lives.”

The iGEM team was supported by the Student Grant Program for Research and Creative Activity and the Caroline ’67 and David D’Antonio Student Travel for Excellence Fund, which is funded by the State University College at Oneonta Foundation Inc. and the SUNY Oneonta Alumni Association through charitable gifts and grants to the college. 

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