Students’ iGEM project wins in a ‘best of’ category

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Senior Durga Thakral is one of the members of the Yale iGEM team. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

The Yale team that participated in the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Competition at MIT Nov. 5-7 did not take home the grand prize, but its members are still cheering a major achievement: a first-place tie in the category “Best Food and Energy Project.”

The team’s iGEM project involved the synthesis of an “antifreeze” protein isolated from a cold-tolerant beetle called Rhagium inquisitor, which could have a number of practical applications, including improving the way transplant organs are stored, how airplanes are de-iced or how food is kept frozen, among others. Their project tied with one by a team from the University of Washington — which won the iGEM world championship or its two-pronged synthetic biology project focusing on gluten destruction and diesel fuel production.

One of just four regional finalists chosen out of 64 teams in the United States and Canada, the Yale team spent the final hours before the iGEM world championship round creating posters for its presentation and frantically preparing for the weekend event. In the final round, it made it into the “Sweet Sixteen” — the top 16 teams which won the most votes from judges for its project.

“Although it was not one of the top four teams in the world competition, the Yale team did extremely well overall — especially considering how few people comprised the team — and are continuing to work on the project with the goal of trying to put a publication together,” says Dorottya Blaho Noble, assistant director of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical, and Engineering Sciences at Yale, which is one of the main sponsors of the team. “This is clear testament of how invested the team members are in their project.”

Members of the Yale iGEM team are Aaron Hakim ’13, Durga Thakral ’12, Chidi Akusobi ’12, Alexander Li ’12, Kara Brower ’13, Steven Zhu ’14, and Darren Zhu ’14.

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