Science team wins Gold Medal at international competition


A team of Science students did the Faculty proud at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition held in Boston, United States from 27 to 31 October 2016 by winning the Gold Medal.


The annual iGEM competition challenges high school, undergraduate and post-graduate students from around the world to use synthetic biology to solve real-world challenges. Students formulate their projects based on synthetic biology, work on it during the summer holidays and then document their work through a webpage, oral presentation and a poster at an international conference.


Since its inception in 2003, iGEM has grown exponentially. From five teams in 2004 to 13 teams in 2005, the competition this year garnered participation from over 270 teams from 40 countries. Participants included top universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Harvard University, University of Cambridge and University of Oxford.


The Science team, NUS_Singapore, comprised Life Sciences’ ANG Shi Hui, CHOI Yan Ru, Corey Bryen LINGAM, HAN Ziyin, Keshiniy MADIVANNAN, NGUYEN Hoang Diem Phuong, Priyanka KAMATH, WONG Chi Yan and YEAM Cheng Teng, Pharmacy’s Janice DARIKHO and Physics’ CHAN Man Yau, Joseph.


The team used synthetic biology to develop engineered bacteria that can detect cancer cells through an increase in specific metabolites around the cancer environment and the presence of the cancer cell receptor. This system identifies cancer cells easily and can be used without specific medical equipment. It also has the ability to customise the bacteria to detect other environmental metabolites and other cancer cell markers.


The project was well-received by the judges and other iGEM participants. It was also one of four nominees, out of 27 teams, selected for the best Diagnostic project award by the judges.


The team was led by Dr Robert LIEU Zi Zhao, Lecturer, SPS and Department of Biological Science; Prof LIOU Yih-Cherng, SPS Director; Prof Matthew WOOK Chang, Department of Biochemistry; Dr Adison WONG, Scientific Programme Manager (Synthetic Biology programme), Department of Biochemistry; and Ms TAN Yi Han, a former SPS student and Research Assistant, Department of Biochemistry; in collaboration with Mechanobiology Institute’s Prof Linda J KENNEY and Dr Stuti Kaivalya DESAI.


Yan Ru said, “iGEM was a wonderful experience. Many creative ideas were presented, allowing me to better understand the wide range of applications that synthetic biology can have. I also enjoyed exchanging ideas with peers from other universities.”


Dr Robert Lieu said, “It was a rewarding experience for Science students to bring together different areas of expertise and to work closely to achieve this amazing outcome.”


This is the second time that the Faculty sent a team to compete in the iGEM competition. In 2015, the inaugural team won the Silver Medal at the Giant Jamboree.


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The team with their poster at the iGEM Giant Jamboree. Front row (left to right): Han Ziyin, Janice Darikho, Diem Phuong Nguyen Hoang and Tan Yi Han.

Second row (left to right): Robert Lieu, Priyanka Kamath, Choi Yan Ru, Corey Bryen Lingam, Ang Shi Hui, Yeam Cheng Teng, Keshiniy Madivannan and Wong Chi Yan.


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The team after receiving the Gold Medal at iGEM Giant Jamboree (left to right): Keshiniy Madivannan, Ang Shi Hui, Janice Darikho, Choi Yan Ru, Yeam Cheng Teng, Priyanka Kamath, Han Ziyin, Wong Chi Yan, Diem Phuong Nguyen Hoang, Corey Bryen Lingam