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Genetically Engineered Machines Competition

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the birth-of-synthetic-biology dept.

38

aqkiva writes, "This past weekend, 33 schools from around the world gathered at MIT for the international genetically engineered machine competition. Teams consisting of mostly undergraduates had designed, built, tested, and characterized biological parts, devices, and systems over the course of the summer and came together to present their work. The competition is helping push the field of synthetic biology and opening access to the tools to engineer biological systems by providing standard biological components. The team from Slovenia won first prize overall for their engineering of mammalian systems and won the 'BioBrick,' a large metal Lego brick. The MIT team won the top prize for the best system with their engineering of bacteria that smell like wintergreen and banana. For news coverage of this weekend's jamboree, see the Boston Globe and Technology Review."

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38 comments

whoa, just whoa (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16739377)

http://www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/11/06/stern.obit.a p/index.html [cnn.com]
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,3383,011254,00.html [foxnews.com]
Famous shock jock Howard Stern was found dead in his Manhattan apartment late Sunday evening. The popular fifty two year old radio personality who recently moved his show to Sirius satellite radio had been bludgeoned to death in his bed. Authorities are pursuing various leads in the investigation. Howard Stern is survived by his fiancee Beth Ostrovsky and three daughters. His agent Don Buchwald did not immediately return phone calls.

Smells like... (1)

Apocalypse111 (597674) | more than 7 years ago | (#16739427)

...bacteria that smell like wintergreen and banana

Ok, so how long until we can get this stuff to feed on various waste products? I know I'd much rather have my cat's farts smell like wintergreen than, well, cat poop.

Re:Smells like... (2, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 7 years ago | (#16740389)

I know I'd much rather have my cat's farts smell like wintergreen than, well, cat poop.

      Thanks a bloody lot. I've just suddenly started thinking about that gum I swallowed yesterday.

Re:Smells like... (1)

Stripsurge (162174) | more than 7 years ago | (#16741223)

*Stephen Hawking voice* You're idea of wintergreen cat feces intrigues me. Perhaps I will steal it */voice*

In all seriousness it wouldn't be hard to do. Take gut bacteria and insert the genes in the wintergreen (Methyl salicylate) pathway. I suspect though the natural flora of the large intestine would outcompete the introduced variety. The two types would be the same except one wastes energy on a useless, and harmful product. Methyl salicylate is similar to salicylic acid, neither of which should be injested.

Banana smelling feces might be a better choice. Isoamyl acetate is the ester produced. I'm not sure how much of the stuff would have to be made to ensure a nice smell. Also I have no idea at what rate it'd be consumed in the gut by other organisms. You might have to buy special food laced with bacterial spores that continually boost the levels of the special bacteria. Interesting idea.

Re:Smells like... (1)

vfp_guru (667579) | more than 7 years ago | (#16741487)

But, once this becomes common, who would ever want to eat bananas (or breath mints) again!?

Re:Smells like... (1)

reverseengineer (580922) | more than 7 years ago | (#16741819)

The process the MIT team used to create pleasant-smelling bacteria is pretty interesting, and might address your comment about (ahem) cat farts. They started with a strain of E. coli that had indole production genes knocked out. This is important to note, because the chemical indole and its derivatives have very strong odors. In trace quantities, it is a component of many pleasantly scented oils, like oil of jasmine.

In larger concentrations, indoles smell like feces. In fact, feces usually smell like feces because they contain indoles- 3-methylindole, for instance, also goes by the name skatole, as in "scat," for good reason. Indoles are produced in the breakdown of many natural products in the body, most notably the amino acid tryptophan and its derivatives like serotonin (coincidentally, while E. coli has a well-studied system called the trp operon for making tryptophan, we lack this, so tryptophan must be obtained from the diet). So step one in making something smell good is getting rid of processes that smell bad.

As far as the production of nice smells like wintergreen and banana, those two smells might stand out to anyone who had an organic chemistry lab course- Fischer esterification being a very popular experiment for novices. The nice smelling chemicals, methyl salicylate and isoamyl acetate (more of a pear smell, IMO) are esters, combinations of an organic acid and an alcohol (acetyl salicyate is aspirin, btw). Organic chemists use a reaction catalyzed by acid or base and heat; biology uses enzymes called transferases to do the same job. The genetic engineering that the MIT team did is here- the salicylate methyltransferase comes from a petunia hybrid, for instance, and the alcohol acetyltransferase from Saccharomyces cervesiae, a.k.a. brewer's yeast (there are some good beers out there that have a fruit odor to them, despite containing no fruit- this is how). They also had to insert a bunch of genes to allow E. coli to make precursors it would have been unable to otherwise, like salicylic acid, and others to regulate the process. The MIT team has a page covering the major elements of their "toolbox" here. [mit.edu]

BioBrick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16739485)

It made me giggle when I read the "BioBrick" is made of metal.

Re:BioBrick (1)

diersing (679767) | more than 7 years ago | (#16739729)

In your imagination was Bender standing when the BioBrick falls between his legs?

Re:BioBrick (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16741337)

"The Registry of Standard Biological Parts is a collection of parts: sequences of DNA with specific function that can be combined together to implement more complex functions. These parts are called BioBricks."

http://syntheticbiology.org/BioBricks.html [syntheticbiology.org]

The American Team from Kansas Tech... (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16739609)

did not have an entry. When asked why, they reponded with, "Genetic Engineering is like Evolution and it is a Theory and not a fact. Also, it goes against the Lord our savior. We are here to teach these Godless Heathens the Truth!"

On another note, the entire world has surpassed the United States in Science and Engineering. The US is currently on a downward spiral into a second world type of stagnation and ignorance. China gearing up for their new role of the superpower.

Neocons are planning an invasion of Mexico to liberate them.

We must keep the GM machines physically separate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16739623)

I hear in one experiment, engineered PCs contaminated some free-range iMacs sitting across the shelf, causing them to be able to play games. Scary!

Now *this* is Intelligent Design (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#16739731)

Finally there's a reason for including the term in the science curriculum, I'm sure the religious nuts will be whooping in the aisles.

 

Oh? Let me know. (1)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16739869)

Genetically-engineered machine pageant? Ah. Just make sure to let me know when Number 6 [consumating.com] shows up for the swimsuit competition segment.

Homeland Security Terrist Alert: +1, Helpful (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16739883)

Should be elevated because of election fraud perpetrated by the American Taliban [whitehouse.org] .

Thanks and remember to vote AGAINST George W. Bush and his brown-shirts this week.

Patriotically,
Kilgore Trout

First Robotics (1)

purduephotog (218304) | more than 7 years ago | (#16740103)

Sounds alot like the FIRST robotics program. Our company (ITT) has sponsored a team the last 3 years, but may not this year because they claim there is no money available. We'll see- lots of fundraising is available.

Given that this competition has quite a bit more lead time, I think you'd get much better results then the 4 week/6 week build time. Any program that brings the bright and talented, as well as the dedicated and interested in to work together in a competitive environment is a plus- we'll need those next generation engineers to come from somewhere.

(And I'm passing on the joke about 3 of the machines mating and producing a super death killer cyborg because I figure others will make it for me...)

BioBrick? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16740209)

What's a BioBrick?

Nice, but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16740377)

...just how many rounds of flipper-babies are we looking at here?

It's not that I'm a n00b, but.... (1)

singingjim (957822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16740507)

...this sounds a little scary to me. I'm sure it's completely innocuous, but when this stuff becomes an advanced science many years from now then what? What could happen in the hands of naredowells?

Re:It's not that I'm a n00b, but.... (1)

gwayne (306174) | more than 7 years ago | (#16742601)

Duh, morning breath will smell like wintergreen and farts will smell like bananas!

Re:It's not that I'm a n00b, but.... (1)

k12linux (627320) | more than 7 years ago | (#16744067)

Awesome living clothes that change color and shape at your whim (ala UltraViolet) and consume sweat and dead skin... get infected with a virus and eat you in your sleep after numbing your nerves so you don't know it's happening until too late?

Re:It's not that I'm a n00b, but.... (1)

kc8tbe (772879) | more than 7 years ago | (#16747005)

Someone with the technology to engineer a virus to cause your living clothes to numb your nerve endings and eat you in your sleep could just engineer a virus to kill you directly.

And don't think that such a virus could arise spontaneously. It's astronomically more likely that a naturally arising virus would simply cause your bio-clothing to rot. And possible smell like bananas and wintergreen in the process.

Re:It's not that I'm a n00b, but.... (1)

k12linux (627320) | more than 7 years ago | (#16750947)

Presumably the living clothes wouldn't have a complex immune system to protect it.

"bananas and wintergreen" - lol

Cool stuff! (1)

SQFreak (844876) | more than 7 years ago | (#16747087)

This is all really cool stuff. I'll admit, I'm biased. I go to a school that competed in iGEM, I'm good friends with a student team member, and I work for one of the faculty members on our iGEM team. My school's team modified E. coli bacteria to solve the burnt pancake problem [uiuc.edu] . It's essentially a biological computer, albeit extremely specialized.

My ultimate point is that you shouldn't dismiss this stuff as useless or without practical application. Understand that the technology is just in its infancy, and that with time, genetically engineered machines and their products will probably be more that we could ever guess now.

Al Qaeda (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16748319)

Just wait until the Mohammedans get their hands on this technology. Killer plagues to order.

Slovenians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16753461)

Just look at the team. The geeky guys tried so hard because they wanted to impress the girls. Can't blame them.

Hurrah Slovenia! (1)

vrykolaka (521411) | more than 7 years ago | (#16782565)

For those who dont know, Slovenia is the northernmost part of Ex-Yugoslavia, and Thomas Jefferson got inspiration from the rules of old Slovenia (Caranthania) when writing the Constitution.

Another Slovene team recently created a nanoparticles detector for Europes NanoSafe2 (French link [empyree.org] ).

Back to topic: Slovenes are very hard-working but tend to depreciate themselves. Don't judge a book by the cover.

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