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Lethbridge Herald
September 18, 2012
Section: City
Page A3
by: Garrett Simmons


More than a dozen University of Lethbridge biochemistry students got a trial run for their genetically engineered machine project in Edmonton this past weekend.

The U of L iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team was one of five teams to present their projects at the aGEM (Alberta Genetically Engineered Machine) jamboree in front of a panel of 11 judges.

"I loved it - just meeting everyone from the team and the judges," said Justin Luu, a second-year biochemistry student.

Jennifer Hill, aGEM program co-ordinator with Alberta Innovates, said iGEM projects deal with science at the 'proof of concept' stage. The concepts presented included engineering organisms to help remediate oilsands tailings ponds and using waste from paper recycling plants to produce special acids used in the pharmaceutical industry and others.

Teams gave 20-minute presentations outlining their projects including the ethical and safety aspects, the team's goals and community involvement.

The U of L team's project uses microbial enhanced oil recovery methods to obtain better extraction of unconventional oil resources like those found in Alberta's Carbonate Triangle. Using a common cyanobacteria, carbon dioxide, acetic acid (vinegar), a biosurfactant and E. coli bacteria, the team described how carbon dioxide is converted into sugars that fuel acetic acid and biosurfactant production in E. Coli. The acetic acid increases the sizes of the pores found in carbonate rock, allowing for enhanced oil recovery with less greenhouse gas emissions.

The University of Calgary team got top honours at the jamboree but all teams got feedback from the judges.

"They liked how involved we got in our local community as well as getting students from the high school and their parents involved," Luu said.

The feedback will help the team prepare for the America Regional Jamboree at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

"We're going to send 10 students to Stanford," said Hans-Joachim Wieden, a professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department and iGEM team supervisor.

The World Championship Jamboree will be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in early November.

"I think it's a great experience for anyone and they should try it," Luu said, adding a high school iGEM team will be starting soon.

Any high school students interested can contact Isaac Ward, iGEM team advisor, at isaac.ward@uleth.ca or Wieden at hj.wieden@uleth.ca.