Twelve Pakistani undergraduate students have won a bronze medal in the iGEM World Championship Jamboree in Boston, United States.
The team consisted of five girls and seven boys from across the country, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Kalat, Swat, Waziristan, Mardan and Peshawar. The project that won the medal was sponsored by Directorate of Sience and technology Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and was supported by Cecos University.
iGEM or the international genetically engineered machines competition is a flagship student competition that started in MIT and has been happening for the last 15 years with 285 teams from across the globe.
The students, making Pakistan’s first team, gathered in Peshawar this summer to use the cutting-edge discipline of synthetic biology to solve one of the most pressing environmental challenges the country is facing.
The 12 students had a molecular biology refresher and an intense synthetic biology crash course in their first month before they brainstormed what problem to solve using the ‘designer bug’ they would create. They chose to focus on air pollution and set out to create a bacteria-based biosensor that could detect Carbon Monoxide and Nitrous Oxide and give out yellow and blue colours so a traffic warden could use it to test vehicle emissions on the spot and save valuable time and resources. Emissions with both gases would then give a green colour.
The iGEM Peshawar team worked on a bio-based sensor that will detect poisonous gases in the air. It is based on a bacterial cell with genetic circuits made of synthetic DNA that the students designed and fabricated to produce different colours in response to the presence of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide or both.
Dr Faisal Khan, principal Investigator and iGEM Team Supervisor who is also the Director of the Institute of Integrative Bio-sciences at CECOS University, Peshawar prior to the event told The Express Tribune that they have been waiting for this moment to introduce synthetic biology in Pakistan. He added, “We cannot be playing with Windows95 in an age of Android and iOS and we desperately needed this upgrade in life sciences in the country.”