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geekStarter Community Highlights – June 2017

Meet our new teams…


Newly on-boarded teams at the collegiate and iGEM kickoff on June 11 in Calgary

Newly on-boarded teams at the collegiate and iGEM kickoff event on June 11 in Calgary

…and learn about their exciting projects.


Synthetic Biology Teams – Collegiate

  • UAlberta iGEM 2017 – Edmonton

This team wants to engineer bacteria to select and optimize drugs for the treatment of cancer. To be selected, a candidate drug will have to bind to its target inside the bacteria, which in turn will trigger the production of gas bubbles and make the bacteria float. The team plans to use the cells’ buoyancy to screen and optimize the cancer drugs using a process called directed evolution, which they intend to automate.  

  • UCalgary iGEM 2017 – Calgary

This will be the second year in a row the iGEM team from University of Calgary will be working on a space travel application. This year’s team plans to build a bacterial system for making biodegradable plastics out of bio-waste produced in space. They also want to make the bio-plastics production process easier and less toxic than currently available methods by programming the bacteria to self-lyse upon reaching saturation with bio-plastics.

  • ULethbridge iGEM 2017 – Lethbridge

This is the tenth year that University of Lethbridge participates in iGEM and, as befits this special occasion, the team plans to combine technologies developed by past ULethbridge iGEM teams into a capstone project. They want to develop an economically viable, cell-free kit for the detection of pathogens that will be safe and serve a wide range of users, from EMS vehicles to space stations. The team also plans to conduct a thorough review of current policies and practices relevant to synthetic biology and nano-technology applications. 


Synthetic Biology Teams – High School

  • UrbanTundra High-School iGEM 2017 – Edmonton

The team wants to continue a project started last year, which is building a bacterial device that converts the toxic chemical perchlorate into chloride and oxygen. Originally intended for use on Mars, whose soil abounds in perchlorate, the system was designed to accomplish two goals: decontaminating the soil to make it suitable for growing plants, and producing life-sustaining oxygen gas. The team also plans to explore possible applications of their remediation system on Earth, and may try to optimize their genes using directed evolution in a bioreactor – provided help and expertise from UAlberta iGEM team. 

Setting an example for resourcefulness and enthusiasm: Urban Tundra

Setting an example for resourcefulness and enthusiasm: Team Urban Tundra iGEM


ACM ICPC World Finals Results are in...

Congratulations to Alberta Gold team from University of Alberta for getting an honorable mention at this tough event! Qualifying for the World Finals, and also getting direct exposure to projects IBM is working on, added up to an excellent experience overall which is bound to further the students’ careers.

Alberta Gold (in green) competes in ACM-ICPC World Finals

Alberta Gold (in green) at the ACM-ICPC World Finals

geekStarter Weekend of Celebration and Deep Learning

geekStarter high school teams and judges at geekStarter's 2017 high school jamboree

Fun times! Teams and judges at the high school jamboree on June 10

This is an exciting time of the year for the geekStarter community!

On June 10 and 11, geekStarter teams gathered together to share and celebrate their projects. They met with experienced guests and mentors and learned tips for how to succeed at competitions and what it would take to bring their projects to life and make an impact in the real world.

Highly anticipated events like these are at the core of our program, which is operated by MindFuel with funding support from Alberta Innovates. They are key to Alberta teams’ excellent performance at competitions such as the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM), and plant the seeds for start-up companies in new technologies such as synthetic biology. Here is what Justin Pahara, Co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Amino Labs and one of the expert guests, commented: “It’s amazing that Alberta has this program – This is a great example of Alberta leading Canada out of the commodity economy.”

The Notre Dame Collegiate host team received lots of feedback from the six

Students from the host team at Notre Dame Collegiate are keen to use judges’ feedback to improve their project

At geekStarter’s 2017 High School Jamboree held at Notre Dame Collegiate in High River on Saturday June 10, six of geekStarter’s high-school teams presented their projects and received feedback and guidance from six experienced judges from academia and industry: Emily Hicks (President and Co-Founder at FREDsense Technologies), Julie Legault (CEO and Founder at Amino Labs), Robert Mayall (Vanier Scholar at University of Calgary, and Co-Founder at FREDsense Technologies), Justin Pahara (Chief Science Officer at Amino Labs), Anam Rizvi (Student in Mechanical Engineering with Biomedical specialization at University of Alberta), and Patrick Wu (Biotechnology Consultant).

A Big Thank You to our amazing guest speakers and judges that our recent High School Jamboree and iGEM workshop were such successful events (left to right): Patrick Wu, Justin Pahara, Julie Legault, Robert Mayall, Emily Hicks, Anam Rizvi

Big Thank You to our amazing guest speakers and judges! We owe them the success of our recent events. Left to right: Patrick Wu, Justin Pahara, Julie Legault, Robert Mayall, Emily Hicks, Anam Rizvi

The Jamboree culminated with the top three teams winning special awards chosen by judges based on each team’s performance and areas of strength. Team APEX Robotics from Calgary won the Most Marketable Project Award for their self-driving snow cleaner, while teams Lethbridge High School iGEM and Canmore’s OLS Syn Bio shared the Best Communication Award for their synthetic biology projects on making biological ink and sorting plastics, respectively.

APEX Robotics demoed their self-driving snow cleaner

APEX Robotics presented their self-driving snow cleaner and won the Award for most marketable project


On the next day, four newly onboarded geekStarter iGEM teams from Edmonton (University of Alberta and Urban Tundra High School), University of Calgary, and University of Lethbridge attended geekStarter’s Collegiate & iGEM Season Kickoff Event held at the Foothills Campus of University of Calgary.

Four of the experts from the High-School Jamboree came to Sunday’s workshop as well, where they gave talks in their areas of expertise.

The topics covered were as follows.

  • DNA Programming: Your Sustainable Future – presented by Justin Pahara
  • Modeling for Synthetic Biology – presented by Robert Mayall
  • Fertile Intersections of Art and Design with the Sciences – presented by Julie Legault
  • Introduction to Visual Design Communication – presented by Patrick Wu
Julie Legault shares from her experiences at the intersection of art and design with the sciences

Julie Legault shares from her experiences at the intersection of art and design with the sciences

Patrick Wu talks about Visual design

In the afternoon, the guest speakers met with each of the teams individually to discuss their projects and provide specific suggestions and feedback. This comment from one of the attendees says it all: “Both the breakout sessions and the talks were amazing.”

Justin Pahara's breakout session with the UCalgary iGEM team

Breakout session with Justin Pahara

“This was an incredible opportunity to learn and collaborate!” said a participant. “All speakers gave relevant knowledge and the event has given me more confidence in our ability to achieve our goals”, said another.

Breakout session with Robert Mayall

Breakout session with Robert Mayall









The weekend’s events offered geekStarter teams much food for thought and a bounty of new ideas and opportunities for networking and mentorship. We hope the inspiration and learnings will go a long way and wish them good luck with their projects!

Spotlight on geekStarters: Lethbridge High School iGEM Team

Spotlight on geekStarters: Lethbridge High School iGEM Team

Best Communication Awardees at geekStarter’s High School Jamboree on June 10: Lethbridge High School iGEM team – Pictured with them (at left) is judge and mentor Emily Hicks, presenter of the award

Meet the High School iGEM team from Lethbridge, and learn about them and their project from this recent interview they gave us.

  • What is unique about your team? Any memorable moments?

We are an ethnically diverse group of high school students that very much enjoy synthetic biology and have found
a way to try to solve a significant real world problem with syn bio. We have also found success with our
project, performing greatly at the recent high school jamboree!

  • What is your team’s favorite fun activity? What’s something your team does to bond?

We have had a game night with our team, where people brought snacks and we played board games for

  • How does your team use social media?

As of now, our team does not have a social media presence, but that is something that would be great to

  • How would you describe your team’s project in 3 sentences or less?

We will be manufacturing pigments using synthetic biology, to use for our own environmentally-friendly
inks. To do this, we are using genes from many different organisms to create four colours, cyan,
magenta, yellow and black. Our pigments will be created in the bacteria Escherichia coli, therefore being
natural and much less environmentally damaging than current ink products.

  • What has been one highlight of working on your project so far?

Just recently, we won a special award at geekStarter’s High School Jamboree for best communication!

  • What is your team’s biggest challenge?

We need to find a way to market our product as well as entice businesses to invest in our product.

  • What does your team look forward to the most this season?

Everybody will be looking forward to seeing our ideas come to life when we produce our pigments.

  • What do you hope to achieve by the end of this season?

We hope to gain interest from large businesses, and gain knowledge from them. Then, with this
knowledge, we hope to strengthen our project and win in Boston at the iGEM Jamboree!

  • Where would you like to see your project go in the future? What are your team’s dreams for the

There is a possibility that our idea can become a business. We are investigating the viability of this
possibility, and there is a chance that our project can go a long way in the ink industry.