Students of Utrecht University and the Hubrecht Institute have won a gold medal at the iGEM Competition, a student competition in synthetic biology. The award ceremony was held this week at the iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston. Team Utrecht won their award because of the development of a DNA detection kit for disease diagnosis.
The Utrecht iGEM team consists of a diverse group of undergraduate students, of which several are associated to the Hubrecht Institute. One of the initiators of the team, Niels Geijsen is group leader at the Hubrecht Institute and Professor of Regenerative Medicine at the faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Utrecht University.
Disease detection kit
The team has developed an easy-to-use and cheap DNA detection kit for disease diagnosis in areas of the world where advanced diagnostic technologies are not available. In developing countries, disease diagnoses are often based on limited information, because of the lack of specialized equipment and expertise. Team Utrecht designed the OUTCASST (Out-of-cell Crispr-Activated Sequence-specific Signal Transducer) system to alleviate this problem. It is cheap to produce, store and ship, and requires nothing more than a simple microscope as a readout.
For over 10 years, iGEM has been encouraging students to work together to solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts. Student teams design, build and test their projects over the summer and gather to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree. Participation in iGEM empowers teams to manage their own projects, advocate for their research and secure funding. Teams are also challenged to actively consider and address the safety, security and environmental implications of their work.