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iGEM’s international synthetic biology competition: The greek teams triumphed

Five gold, one silver and two bronze medals, but also a lot of admiration won the greek participation in the international competition of synthetic biology iGEM in Paris. As every year, groups of undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students, as well as young researchers from more than 45 countries from all continents gathered to present in the final “Giant Jamboree”, pioneering biological systems with a specific mission, built with “tools” of synthetic biology. The first participation of a group of Greek students in the competition was in 2017 and this year 8 teams from many universities in Greece took part, which presented the following intelligent projects:

  • iGEM Athens won a gold medal with the project “AdAPTED: Augmenting dNTPs And Polymerase Through Gold Enzymatic Design”. The team of students of the School of Chemical Engineering of NTUA, the Athens University of Economics and Business and the Department of Biology of the University of Athens, proposes an alternative approach for the production of basic PCR reagents, a biological system capable of producing dNTPs and DNA polymerase, two of the most important reagents of a PCR test, thus expanding massive economical access to them, since they allow a low-cost PCR test, with components that do not require storage in a cold environment.
  • Gold medal for iGEM NOUS, a multidisciplinary group of students from all over Greece, that participated as Greece united with the project “Epione: One Less Painful Step”. The team attempts to fight osteoarthritis by stopping its inflammatory cycle by introducing specially infected cells into the osteoarthritic joint.The cells produce synthetically designed exosomes containing miRNA-140. MiRNA-140 has been shown to inhibit the expression of certain destructive cartilage proteins and promote the expression of regenerative agents. The team proposes to offer a painless treatment using a synthetic biological system that produces inhibitory miRNA.
  • Gold for iGEM Thessaloniki with the project “METIS: A toehold-based diagnostic tool for Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma”. The team consisting of students of the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Chemistry, Informatics, Pharmacy, Physics and Biology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, as well as the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics of the Demoth, is developing an innovative in vitro diagnostic for pancreatic adenocarcinoma in stages 1 and 2 through the detection of small RNA molecules in the urine of patients. Pancreatic duct adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the most common type of pancreatic cancer and is characterized by its destructive outcome, with a 5-year survival rate of only 10%. As in other types of cancer, it is thought that early diagnosis could contribute to a more effective treatment.
  • iGEM Thessaly, which is a multidisciplinary team of students from the University of Thessaly, also won a gold medal for the project “Amalthea: a complete prevention toolkit to gut dysbiosis” aiming at the integrated analysis of the gut microbiome in order to prevent idiopathic inflammatory diseases and produce personalized nutrition patterns. Damage to the metabolic profile of the microbiome, called bowel dysbiosis, is characterized by varying concentrations of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Thus, the group develops a bioelectronic capsule that uses a biosensor that correlates the amount of SCFA in the intestine with the functional capacity of the gut microbiome. The data is digitized and transmitted to a mobile app, where a multidisciplinary team of health experts evaluates them
  • Gold for iGEM Thrace as well with “Salica: A device for early screening of colorectal cancer using salivary biomarkers” that aims at the non-invasive, economical diagnosis of colorectal cancer, with a synthetic system that detects suitable biomarkers in saliva. The proposed solution concerns a non-invasive, easy-to-use household appliance, which accurately quantifies the biomarkers of saliva colon cancer. iGEM Thrace is the multidisciplinary team of the Democritus University of Thrace, consisting of students of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, as well as students of the Polytechnic School of Xanthi.
  • iGEM Crete won the only silver medal of the Greek mission with the project “A PLANT-BASED EDIBLE VACCINE EXPRESSING A CHIMERIC TRIPARTITE SPIKE-S1 PROTEIN OF SARS-CoV-2 FOR COVID-19 CONTROL”. The team is planning a synthetic protein that will be produced from plants and will act as an alternative, edible dose of vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. To create this vaccine, it designed a synthetic gene that expresses specific SARS-CoV-2 antigens in plant cells.
  • iGEM IOANNINA won one of the two bronze medals with “Antibyeotic: Bacteria against AMR” wants and wishes to provide a solution to the ever-increasing microbial resistance to antibiotics, by constructing a biological, self-destructing system capable of neutralizing remaining antibiotics.The team designs a bacterial mechanism, which can inactivate tetracyclines and macrolides in the environment, while containing a mechanism of self-destruction, which is activated when it fulfills its role.
  • The second bronze medal belongs to iGEM Patras and “PGasus: A comprehensive workflow for the identification and functional characterization of PGx variants” which aims at the functional characterization of genomic variants that have emerged through a next generation portable sequencer, aiming at the enzymatic activity of the enzymes CYP2D6 and CYP2C19, which are responsible for the metabolism of clinically used drugs, with the ultimate goal of optimizing the pharmacotherapy of the patient. iGEM Patras is the interdisciplinary team of the University of Patras, consisting of students of the Department of Pharmacy and Biology and Genetics, as well as students of the Polytechnic School of Patras.

The iGEM competition, which is supported by the homonym organization iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) which is a non-profit organization aiming at the promotion of synthetic biology, was launched in January 2003 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) giving students the opportunity to develop their own biological applications. In 2004 5 groups participated and in 2021 more than 350 gathered with the support of universities, research research centers and community labs. The groups that register are invited to solve a problem that concerns one of the following categories as defined by iGEM: diagnostics, environment, food and nutrition, foundational advance, software, manufacturing, New application and therapeutics. For the last 16 years, this competition has been a landmark in the field of Synthetic Biology and a pole of attraction for more than 350 groups and 6000 students annually, while since its inception in 2004, it has hosted a total of more than 40,000 college students, students and group instructors. Every year nearly 6,000 people dedicate their summer to iGEM and then gather in the fall to present their work and compete in the annual Jamboree.

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