iGEM never sleeps

It's like a dorm party... but not. It's getting close to 9, the techno is blasting, a leftover spread of Mediterranean food goes dry on a long table, and hundreds of undergrads stand around talking in groups. Many of them are still standing by their posters -- their last chance to show off their work before the judges choose the winners tomorrow morning. The linkurl:team;http://parts.mit.edu/igem07/index.php/Ljubljana from last year's winning institution, the University of Ljubljana in Sloveni

Alla Katsnelson
Nov 3, 2007
It's like a dorm party... but not. It's getting close to 9, the techno is blasting, a leftover spread of Mediterranean food goes dry on a long table, and hundreds of undergrads stand around talking in groups. Many of them are still standing by their posters -- their last chance to show off their work before the judges choose the winners tomorrow morning. The linkurl:team;http://parts.mit.edu/igem07/index.php/Ljubljana from last year's winning institution, the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, described three ways to activate defense systems against HIV infection. All are insensitive to viral mutation, thereby beating the problem of drug resistance. The idea, the group said, is to target a function of the virus, rather than a sequence. The three techniques all rest on the dimerization of two cell membrane receptors, CD4 and CCR5, which occurs when the virus binds to the membrane. In one case, they rigged the two receptors to...
and hundreds of undergrads stand around talking in groups. Many of them are still standing by their posters -- their last chance to show off their work before the judges choose the winners tomorrow morning. The linkurl:team;http://parts.mit.edu/igem07/index.php/Ljubljana from last year's winning institution, the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, described three ways to activate defense systems against HIV infection. All are insensitive to viral mutation, thereby beating the problem of drug resistance. The idea, the group said, is to target a function of the virus, rather than a sequence. The three techniques all rest on the dimerization of two cell membrane receptors, CD4 and CCR5, which occurs when the virus binds to the membrane. In one case, they rigged the two receptors to two halves of a protease; attached below that, on the CD4 cell is an RNA polymerase. The polymerase gets released when the dimer forms, and travels to the nucleus to turn on an effector gene. The group tested the system with two effector genes -- one, which codes for caspase-3, releases to cause apoptosis, thereby killing the infected cell. The other, interferon-beta, boosts immune response. (They haven't yet figured how to transfect enough of the cells with the constructs, the presenter told me.) [update - apologies, I'd misunderstood their effector work before.] Another poster I looked in on was the linkurl:Saint Petersburg;http://parts.mit.edu/igem07/index.php/Saint_Petersburg group's, describing a copper biosensor that could be used to test water for contamination. The system consists of two parts: a copper responsive element and a trigger that senses copper levels. So far, the two presenters explained to me, their project is just theoretical. "We did everything we could. We cloned the plasmids. But we could not ligate them because we don?t have the enzyme." His partner added, "We have these problems in Russia." Evidently, a shipment did not arrive. But no matter, they told me -- it's their first year and next year will go smoother. In some ways, how good the science on the posters is does not really matter, James Brown, one of the mentors of the Cambridge, UK, team told me. He sees iGEM as largely an educational event, a "seeding" of the field of synthetic biology. At the beginning of the summer, some of the kids on his team didn't even know the basic components of a cell, he told me, but in a few years many of them will become the next generation of researchers working on bioengineering cells from the bottom up. And according to linkurl:Tom Richard,;http://www.abe.psu.edu/fac/Richard/Overview.htm a biological engineer at Penn State who is judging the conference for the third year (he was the head judge last year), the science is not too shabby. While some student conferences may not be particularly innovative, he said later on tonight at a Central Square pub, the talk among the judges here has been about identifying work that has never been done before. Tomorrow: The winners.

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