Friday, June 7, 2013

Research Update 2 (TL;DR)

So these past two weeks have been a whirlwind of research and feasibility questions. After our post-translational modification project was deemed overly complex and not feasible, we started brainstorming other ideas for the main project.

Like we said in the first research update, we first looked at quality control mechanisms of the registry, and how robust parts are. Currently there's no way to tell how parts will function in other systems besides the one it was designed in. This is a big limitation of synthetic biology, as it doesn't allow for easy part implementation. So we thought about designing a way to test and quantify how robust a part is in relation to variables such as temperature, pH, and salinity. Unfortunately when we presented this to our advisers they offered many drawbacks and limitations to this project, not to mention how incredibly hard it would be to pinpoint one variable and make the system more robust for that specific variable. There are just too many factors to control. So we still kept thinking about quality control, but not for robustness.

That quality control perspective lead us to look at the registry and think about the overall shortcomings of it. One of the major ones we realized was how un-standardized the characterization data for the parts are. Each year, teams upload parts with little to no characterization. And even if there is a good deal of characterization, there's no way to compare two parts because they did completely different tests! So that lead us to one of our current side projects, which is to develop a standardized characterization protocol system that all teams would use when submitting parts to the registry. But every year teams create protocols that never get adopted or used. That's why we started contacting every iGEM team we could to get a massive collaboration across the board to know that the protocol was worked on by a multitude of teams.

So we've gotten feedback from over 30 teams that want to collaborate, and we have many plans in the works to develop this standard. (For more on this project, read the post below or email us at

As for our main project, we had two main ideas that we focused on this week. The first one was a way to retrieve toxic metal ions from contaminated water sources, and the second was to look at recreating steps towards multicellularity in a laboratory setting. We researched both ideas thoroughly, and determined as a team that the multicellularity project was a better one, because it's much more novel even though it's more complex. We looked at some of the initial steps that single celled organisms take to evolve into multicellular ones, and found that polarization of cells relative to a surface is a pretty important step, and also doable within our limited time frame. We are now researching ways to first grow cells in a single layer biofilm, and then how to get those cells to recognize their attachment to a surface.

That's what we've been working on the past two weeks, hopefully we'll start posting weekly research updates on Fridays to keep everyone in the loop.

Thanks for reading!

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