Student Success

High school iGEM team best in the world

A team of Lethbridge high school students has been awarded the coveted Green Brick grand prize at the iGEM High School Jamboree – an international competition for young synthetic biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, MA.

The team was judged on its efforts to create a longer lasting form of Oxytocin – a hormone most-commonly known for its use in aiding childbirth. Oxytocin, unfortunately, has a very short half-life meaning the hormone degrades quickly and soon becomes unstable, making it expensive and difficult to store.

The Lethbridge High School team together with their University of Lethbridge undergraduate student and graduate student advisors and their faculty advisor, Dr. HJ Wieden, successfully developed a genetic circuit (BioBricks) to reprogram a harmless laboratory strain of the common bacterium Escherichia coli to express a stabilized variant of Oxytocin. Details about their project and the team itself can be found on their project website (wiki)

In addition to being named the top team at the competition, the Lethbridge team also was awarded prizes for the "Best Bio Brick" and "Best Wiki". A total of 30 international teams competed at the event last weekend.

The iGEM Foundation fosters scientific research and education through organizing and operating the iGEM Competition, the premier student synthetic biology competition. It also facilitates scientific research and education by establishing and operating the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, a community collection of open source biological components.

The organization promotes the advancement of science and education by developing an international open community of students and practitioners in schools, laboratories, research institutes and industry.

"One of the real values of the U of L's commitment to the iGEM program is that it is building bridges between high school and university experiences," say Dr. HJ Wieden, a U of L synthetic biology researcher who served as an advisor to the team. "These exceptional students will be the innovators and entrepreneurs who will add tremendous value to Alberta's economy and quality of life in the future."

Students from the Lethbridge team represented various Lethbridge high schools including Chinook High School, Winston Churchill High School, Catholic Central High School and Lethbridge Collegiate Institute. The team has successfully applied for funding from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (geekStarter) to support their project.

"This result is absolutely exceptional, though I am not surprised. Previous iGEM competitions have placed University of Lethbridge undergraduate and our Lethbridge high school teams among the best in the world on multiple occasions," says U of L President and Vice-Chancellor Mike Mahon. "The University of Lethbridge has a strong track record of attracting world-leading faculty like Dr. Wieden and we are committed to partnering with the community through programs like the iGEM High School Jamboree. It also illustrates that our local high schools are producing some incredible young scientists."

The Lethbridge high school team plans on continuing its Oxytocin project next year.