geekStarter Community Highlights – July 2017

Summer is peak time for iGEM teams. Find out what they have been up to in recent weeks.   UAlberta iGEM 2017 – Edmonton Aiming to develop a buoyancy based-bacterial screening method which utilizes a bacterial two-hybrid system, the team completed the assembly of the construct needed for this system, and is currently working on building a fluorescent reporter. They have run into some roadblocks in the cloning of the gas vesicle cluster of eleven genes into a single plasmid, but they welcomed this challenge because it exposed them to many different cloning techniques. The team has also started the modelling component of their project and are excited to get the ball rolling with that. As for human practices, they have been super busy reaching out to various channels for feedback on the project, setting up social media accounts, and planning different fundraising and community outreach events!   UCalgary iGEM 2017  With their research revamped towards a focus on long term space missions and the colonization of Mars, the progress of engineering their bacteria to produce bioplastics by recycling human waste has acquired increased momentum. The past few weeks have found them conversing with experts in numerous fields from scientists at the Calgary wastewater treatment plant to astronauts, including Chris Hadfield, to help guide their project towards completion. In the lab, the team has made valuable advances in the process of making Escherichia coli bacteria that can produce and secrete bioplastics. The lab work is divided into three groups: one which handles the complexities behind synthesizing the bioplastics, another which is figuring out methods of extracting the bioplastic from inside the cell, and finally a group to develop the complete process of plastic production, which rounds out the non-biological side of the project. The...

geekStarter Community Highlights – June 2017

Meet our new teams…   …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...

geekStarter Weekend of Celebration and Deep Learning

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.” 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). 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...

geekStarter Community Highlights – May 2017

UPDATES FROM SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY TEAMS Lethbridge High-School iGEM The Lethbridge HS iGEM team has been picking up the pace lately, and has lots to report! After exploring a few project ideas, the team settled on making biological pigments in E coli bacteria, with the goal of producing large quantities of biologically friendly ink for the printing industry. With help from their team mentors, the students designed genetic constructs for four different colours of Synthetink, and are getting ready to start cloning soon. Excited for the opportunity to document their project and publish it, the team wrote an article for BioTreks 2017, which is getting into very good shape as they continue to edit it and incorporate feedback from judges and other teams from the BioTreks online community. On April 29, the students participated in the BioTreks online conference, where they learned about other teams’ projects and received feedback from judges in real time.   On May 4, the team hosted a parent and teacher lab night – their first ever. At the event, the students familiarized parents and teachers with their synthetic ink project and the benefits of participating in the iGEM competition. They also guided their guests through hands-on experiments such as DNA extractions from strawberries and gel electrophoresis with crayola markers, to give them a sense for wetlab protocols in a fun way. The lab night was well received by parents and teachers and will likely become an annual event that will increase public engagement and awareness about the benefits of the program. Awesome work, Lethbridge HS!     Notre Dame Collegiate Syn Bio team from High River While still looking to develop an ovulation-detection system for natural family planning, the team has shifted gears regarding the hormone they’ll use. Additional research and their mentors’...

geekStarter Robotics Workshop Inspires Students

If you program a robot to be creative, who is more innovative – the human that built that robot, or the artificial intelligence (AI) itself? It’s these types of questions that are pushing boundaries in the world of robotics, and students with MindFuel’s geekStarter program showed this past weekend how excited they are to tackle the challenge of robots for the future. On April 9, geekStarter hosted a robotics workshop for two high school teams: Father Mercredi Community High-School, from Fort McMurray, AB and APEX Robotics, based in Calgary, AB. These robotics teams shared their projects, and heard from researchers and professionals pursuing engineering and robotics applications in their work. The event, which created a space for collaborative idea sharing, showcasing student work, and highlighting successes of the teams, inspired Albertan students to apply their skills and knowledge of robotics to a multitude of disciplines. Father Mercredi Community High-School has in fact four teams that compete in 4-5 regional competitions per season. Making its own contribution to the big robotics family at the school, each team collaborates with the others while building their own specific application at the same time. Their presentation highlighted key projects such as the Pegasus Robotic Arm, involving student programming and automation; a robot to collect and assess invasive aquatic species in the local community; and a dog-training bear robot to teach dogs safe responses in bear territory. The students had just competed in the West Canada – FIRST Robotics Competition in the previous couple of days.   The APEX Robotics team comprises students from multiple high schools in the Calgary area. They too brought their robot to FIRST Robotics regional competitions during this season. In March they competed...

geekStarter Community Highlights – February 2017

Young students at FMCHS robotics competition Two exciting events were hosted last month by Father Mercredi Community High School team in Fort McMurray. One was a VEX Robotics Tournament, world’s Northernmost VEX tournament, held on January 14. The winners were two of the school’s teams, which qualified for the North American VEX championships in Iowa April 4-8, 2017. The tournament was attended by First Lego League students as well, who participated in a programming Maze and Sumo match competition. The other event where the FMCHS teams spread their love for robotics, was the well-attended Grade 6 Open House Day on January 30.   OLS team designing their new project The past few weeks have been eventful for the OLS team in Canmore! They have been busy brainstorming and researching project ideas using design thinking methods, as part of the Berkeley Program. Recently, they converged on two topics: Degradation of plastics and Microbial Fuel Cells. It’s great how everyone, including the team’s mentors, can follow and contribute to the ideation and discovery process, which is all documented on Google drive. Excellent work OLS, and great job at keeping everyone in the loop!   OLS students using AMINO’s DNA Playground New bioengineering kits from AMINO labs are being tested by the OLS team from Canmore – with excellent results! After gaining some practice with the virtual bioengineer simulator, the team went ahead and used the DNA Playground to introduce a new DNA program into bacteria – which turned the bacteria pink! Designed for beginners with no prior experience in molecular biology, the AMINO equipment and kits are student-friendly and will help our new middle-school and high-school teams jump-start their journey in synthetic biology....