Distinction of Student Team iGEM Athens 2020 at the International Synthetic Biology Competition iGEM 2020

The inter-institutional collaboration of undergraduate students won a Silver Medal in the World Competition of Synthetic Biology iGEM 2020, which took place online on 14-22 November 2020. The team iGEM Athens 2020 consists of 12 undergraduate students, Natalia Salpea from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering NTUA, Dimos Aslanis, Eleftheria Kelefioti Stratidaki, Kleoniki Pylarinou,Vasileia Spyridaki, Ilias Toumpe from the School of Chemical Engineering NTUA, Marianna Ioannidou and Andreas Athanasios Tzontzos Dekmak from the Department of Biotechnology AUA, Orsalia-Zoi Veloudiou from the Department of Medicine NKUA and Spyros Kanellopoulos, Kalliopi Belegri and George Broutzakis from the Department of Biology NKUA.

The main problem that the team addressed is the toxicity of the dyes used in numerous everyday products. The goal of the MORPHÆ project was to produce an innovative colored and biodegradable material that can be used to replace materials coated with dyes that are toxic to humans and the environment. Inspired by colors in nature that may be due to either chemical dyes or the natural structure of surfaces, the team makes use of bacterial strains that show structural color when forming biofilms. This phenomenon is caused by spatial geometries on the nanometer scale, which interact with light by rules of optics. Bacteria of the Flavobacterium genus, which naturally show structural color, will be genetically modified to produce a material that is colored because it retains the above spatial property. The material chosen to be produced is bacterial cellulose, a durable biopolymer whose production was designed to be transferred from other derived strains. This process was validated by simulations and computational models to predict the conditions under which the preservation of structural color would be achieved.

Unfortunately, the conditions that prevailed due to the pandemic, did not favor the realization of the idea in the laboratory and therefore the experimental design will be applied in order to produce the complete product, in the second phase of the competition to be held in 2021.

As part of the group's involvement with the project, multiple discussions were held with experts from different fields, in order to obtain a global picture of both the problem to be addressed and to discuss good practices for dealing with it. In addition, one of the goals of the group was to simplify the science and communication of synthetic biology with the general public, which was achieved through online actions in which the group participated.

The project of the iGEM Athens 2020 team met the criteria of the competition for the silver category and is posted on the official website while it was also awarded for the best project promotion video of the competition in the category of undergraduate projects .