iGEM competition: First runner up to world champion for Bielefeld

November 06, 2013

Many months of laboratory work, numerous challenges, and, finally, good reason to celebrate: Ten students from Bielefeld University have been taking part in this year's International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) organized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - and they gained second place (First Runner Up). They had already won the European region preliminary round (11-13 October) with their construction of a microbial fuel cell to generate energy directly from bacteria. The final World Championship Jamboree was held from 1-4 November at the MIT in Boston, USA. The Bielefeld team competed successfully against 80 teams from all over the world. Professor Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Sagerer, Rektor of Bielefeld University was openly delighted at the success of the young researchers. 'I heartily congratulate the Bielefeld team for this fantastic result. This very good achievement underlines the international level of research and teaching at Bielefeld. And I wish to thank the students for helping to make Bielefeld University even more visible throughout the world.'

'Second place is a tremendous success,' enthused team member Tore Bleckwehl after the end of the Jamboree on 4 November. 'It's simply incredible and the culmination of a year of hard work.' Teams from all over the world had entered the final round of the largest student competition for synthetic biology - including those from renowned higher education institutes such as Yale University (USA) or Imperial College London (Great Britain). 'We are on a par with these universities, as the European region preliminary round and now the final round has shown,' says iGEM team member Lukas Rositzka. 'We don't have to see ourselves as being in any way inferior to the big names.' The Bielefeld team is one of seven German teams to make it to the finals. Although this is the fourth year running that Bielefeld University has taken part in the iGEM competition, it has never done so well before. In the last two years, both Bielefeld teams made it into the 'Sweet Sixteen' - the 16 best teams.

Generating energy from bacteria

The Bielefeld iGEM team entered the competition with the goal of constructing a functioning microbial fuel cell that would use bacteria to generate energy. Apart from one difference, such an environmentally friendly fuel cell functions in principle in exactly the same way as a traditional battery. Just like a normal battery for domestic use, a microbial fuel cell consists of two separate units, the anode and cathode compartments. These two compartments are separated by a semi-permeable membrane, the proton exchange membrane. However, the microbial fuel cell differs from a traditional battery in that the anode compartment does not contain electrolytes but bacteria. These convert substrate, in this case sugar, through metabolic reactions. This produces electrons that are transferred to the anode and finally - over an external circuit - to the cathode. The external circuit is the application driven by the fuel cell such as a lamp or a small motor. By this process, bacteria can be used to generate electricity.

The Bielefeld students did not just succeed in reaching the goal they had set themselves; they also managed to genetically modify Escherichia coli - the bacteria used in the fuel cell - and make the electricity generation even more efficient. The team did not overlook biosafety and also developed a genetic safety system that prevents the bacteria from being released into the environment.

It's not just lab work that counts

The iGEM competition has been organized at MIT every year since 2004. What started as a course at MIT has steadily attracted more and more participants, from five teams in 2004 to over 210 this year. Alongside experimental work in the laboratory, the students are also responsible for running public relations, recruiting sponsors, and organizing events. The competition also awards special prizes for particularly good work in special sub-domains of the project and in the project presentation. At the final jamboree in Boston, the Bielefeld team were not only 'First Runner Up', but were also awarded the prize for the best 'Food & Energy' project. 'Taking part in the iGEM was a great experience for all the team, and something we would recommend to everybody,' summarizes Rositzka. 'Because you have to organize a complete project in the competition, you learn things that would simply not be possible in a regular study course. It was a great deal of work, but at least just as much fun.'
-end-
Further information is available online at: http://www.igem-bielefeld.de

Bielefeld University

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.