Gold medal for NTUA & NKUA university students at 2019 iGEM Competition
Photo Credit: iGEM Athens 2019 (in this photo with President Randy Rettberg)
The Greek Student Research Team for Synthetic Biology, iGEM Athens 2019, has won a Gold Medal and Nomination for the Best New Application on the International Competition for Synthetic Biology, International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) 2019. This year’s competition took part from October 31st to November 4th, 2019, in Boston, USA.
With just over 120 judges, more than 350 competing teams, and over 5000 participants in total, the achievement of the NTUA & NKUA research team brings to NTUA in particular its first Gold Medal on Synthetic Biology and the distinction of one of the Best Projects in their category.
The winning team comprised of students from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering of the National Technical University of Athens (ECE-NTUA) and the School of Medicine and the Department of Biology of the NKUA, took part in the worldwide competition with a novel method for the development of specialized molecules, known as aptamers, capable of recognizing any other target-molecule, with applications ranging from Medicine to Industry. Crucial for the development of the research project was the engineering contribution of the two ECE-NTUA undergraduate students, Iason Milionis and Marilena De Pian. The two students also highlight the importance of raising awareness on NTUA campus about the potential applications of synthetic biology and getting more engineering students involved in this field.
The research idea of iGEM Athens 2019 team constitutes a global innovation on the field of Aptamers, since it is the first radically novel proposal for the production of aptamers in the last 30 years. Aptamers are oligonucleotides, RNA or DNA, that can bind to specific target-molecules in the same way as antibodies. Until now their production was done utilizing a method called SELEX, which requires specialized equipment, technical expertise and high expenses, rendering it inaccessible for greek technical structures and recourses. However, aptamers, as a wholly new technology, offer multiple applications to Medicine, Research, Industry, and the Environment, especially because they are not dangerous for humans and nature. The team suggested a novel method of production, in which bacteria adjust and evolve aptamers against virtually any target-molecule. Alongside, the team developed bioinformatic systems for the design and prediction of molecular interactions, as well as modelling the bacterial cell's proposed mechanism. The team's project website is located on https://2019.igem.org/Team:Athens
and the results on https://2019.igem.org/Competition/Results#Best_New_Application_Project
History of iGEM: The iGEM competition began in January of 2003 as part of a month-long course at MIT during their Independent Activities Period (IAP) and has steadily grown ever since. In 2012, iGEM spun out of MIT and has been held every year under the auspices of the iGEM foundation, an independent, non-profit organization.