A team of students from Tel Aviv University (TAU) won a gold medal this week at the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition) world championship in synthetic biology.
The team won first place in the Best Software Development category and second place in the Foundational Advance category, a prize given for proposed solutions for fundamental problems in synthetic biology.
Students from 256 universities across the world participated in the competition, with each team forming an original idea and operating like a startup venture. The annual contest, usually held in Boston, took place online this year due to the pandemic.
In this year’s iGEM, the TAU team developed an innovative process that improves genome stability and ensures long-term preservation of the inserted synthetic genes. Genetic engineering is based on the insertion of genes from one organism into another organism. The challenge in this process is the instability of these genes, which are often quickly “erased” from the genome.
Since most biotech and pharma companies use this type of genetic engineering, the development could contribute to drug development, the food and agriculture industry and green energy.
The technology, based on tools from various disciplines including engineering, computer science and molecular biology, comprises software for designing genetically stable DNA sequences, alongside novel techniques for measuring genome stability.
The judges awarded the team a gold medal as well as other prizes. The TAU team also ranked higher in the competition’s overall ranking than teams from some of the world’s top universities, including Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and Cornell, the university said.
“It was a great honor for me to head a team of outstanding students who were extremely proud to represent Tel Aviv University and the State of Israel,” said Karin Sionov, the team’s captain who also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from TAU’s Faculty of Engineering. “Winning was our reward for a whole year of hard, challenging work. We came to the competition with great motivation and gave everything we had.”
The TAU team, led by Prof. Tamir Tuller, head of the Laboratory of Computational, Systems and Synthetic Biology, The Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, included 12 outstanding students from the Faculties of Engineering, Medicine, Life Sciences and Exact Sciences including Karin Sionov (Captain), Niv Amitay, Hadar Ben Shoshan, Noa Kraicer, Bar Glickstein, Itamar Menuhin, Matan Arbel, Doron Naky, Omer Edgar, Itai Katzir, David Kenigsberger and Einav Saadia
“This is a very impressive achievement, which proves that TAU leads and excels in synthetic biology – not only in Israel but internationally as well. One proof of the immensity of the achievement comes from a Swiss company that has expressed an interest in our technology, already forwarding a contribution to advance the idea, and intending to support us on our way to commercialization,” Prof. Tuller said.