Students go for gold at MIT
Press release issued: 17 August 2010
A student team from the University of Bristol will be competing against 128 universities at an international synthetic biology competition hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the USA’s leading academic institutions.
The Bristol Centre for Complexity Sciences (BCCS) Bristol team will travel to Boston to compete for the gold medal at the prestigious 2010 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition.
The aim of the competition is for the teams to design and build new biological systems using standard biological parts that can be operated in living cells.The teams will then present their designs at the four-day event in November.
The BCCS Bristol team has designed a cheap, versatile soil fertility sensor to be used primarily by farmers that will aid agriculture and the environment.
Neeraj Oak, a PhD student and BCCS Bristol team member, said: “Many crop types need to be harvested and replanted from scratch on an annual basis. To maintain nutrient levels in the soil, farmers often have to put down considerable quantities of fertiliser. This is costly, and a fair proportion of it ends up landing on soil that has enough nutrients anyway.
“Additionally, some of the nutrients in the fertiliser are often washed away, affecting local ecosystems. This process is called eutrophication. This is a major environmental concern, as it can cause algal blooms that drain oxygen out of rivers and lakes, killing fish and other wildlife.
“The device will work by sensing whether nutrients in newly ploughed soil are above a given threshold. If this is the case, it will express a colour signal, identifying its area as high in nutrients. This allows farmers to fertilise only the areas that really need it, saving them money and reducing fertiliser usage.”
As part of their entry, the team has also been taking part in outreach activities by visiting local schools and farmers to talk about their project.
The multi-disciplinary team, supported by the EPSRC, comprises PhD and undergraduate students from the University's Bristol Centre for Complexity Sciences, School of Biological Sciences and the Departments of Biochemistry and Engineering Mathematics.
The competition takes place at the MIT in Boston, US, from 5 to 8 November 2010. More information about the project is available on the BCCS Bristol team website.
1. Synthetic biology is an emerging area of biological research combining science and engineering.
2. The Bristol Centre for Complexity Sciences (BCCS) is a multi-disciplinary centre for training and research funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC). The mission of the BCCS is that of nurturing the next generation of scientists and engineers in the most challenging areas of the emerging sciences of complexity. The BCCS is a major collaboration across four faculties within the University of Bristol.