Young scientists bring iGEM grand prize to Marburg

17 students from different disciplines win international synthetic biology competition

November 15, 2021

As in previous years, students from all over the world came together to compete in the field of synthetic biology. The students from PhilippsUniversität Marburg were exceptionally successful: they took the overall victory in the international iGEM competition and also won 11 of 18 prizes in other categories, including those for social integration and education. The Marburg iGEM team developed a new technology to rapidly accelerate research on new climate-resistant crops - their concept convinced the jury. This is the second time after 2018 that the overall winners of the iGEM competition are from Marburg.

The "international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition" is an international competition for students in the field of synthetic biology. It is organized by the foundation of the same name and aims to encourage students to conduct independent and innovative research while still at university. In the field of synthetic biology, researchers reconstruct existing biological building blocks or recombine building blocks from different living organisms to explore and engineer special biological properties.

"I warmly congratulate the students and the project leaders from our Center for Synthetic Microbiology, the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Medicine, Economics and the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology," said Prof. Dr. Katharina Krause, President of Philipps University. "They have won against more than 350 teams from universities around the world and brought the prize to Marburg again after 2018." The team was further supported by Siemens Healthineers, Hessen Trade & Invest and numerous other companies.

"After our research in the field of life sciences has already been recognized recently with the top position among Hessian universities in the Times Higher Education Ranking, the iGEM victory shows that excellent research and teaching come together at Philipps-Universität, and that this is also internationally visible," said Prof. Dr. Michael Bölker, Vice President for Research and International Affairs.   The Philipps University Marburg team has committed itself to reducing the time it takes to develop new improved crops."

To this end, the team has developed so-called cell-free systems that allow testing of genetic building blocks without the need to introduce the genetic information DNA into a living cell," says molecular plant physiologist Prof. Dr. Lars Voll. He supervised the student team together with scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, coach Rene Inckemann and Dr. Henrike Niederholtmeyer, head of the Emmy Noether Cell Free Biology" research group. Both Inckemann and Niederholtmeyer are members of the members of the Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO). " In the future, this cell-free approach could rapidly accelerate the development of new crops, as many tests can be established within a day and be performed at high throughput before a living plant is altered," Voll added.  

However, not only research is important for the evaluation in the competition - the students are also required to present and discuss their project in public. This year, the Marburg team has developed new concepts to allow schools to conduct experiments in the field of synthetic biology using cell-free systems which would otherwise not be possible due to the lack of suitable laboratories. Another goal was to discuss the project with farmers from the region and then produce information material to provide information about new methods in plant breeding.

Text: Christina Mühlenkamp, Pressestelle der Philipps-Universität Marburg

iGEM-Winners and overview of the 11 undercategory prizes:  

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