iGEM.Berlin 2014

Image IGEM.Berlin team member

Question and content

Taking part in the "International Genetically Engineered Machines" competition (iGEM), an interdisciplinary team of students was working under Professor Nediljko Budisa (TU Berlin) to create magnetic Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, allowing for remote control of the microorganisms. By specifically altering the naturally occurring intestinal bacteria, this achievement is quite possible. The iGEM is the world's largest competition for the new research field of synthetic biology, a science that is active in the border region between molecular biology, chemistry and engineering. It was launched in 2003 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston and is held once a year.

The task was to develop solutions to self-defined problems in the field of synthetic biology: For this purpose, iGEM shared standardized DNA building blocks available, so-called "BioBricks", with the competing teams, which they worked on to characterize and further develop and share back with the community. The BioBricks were to be used for combination in innovative ways, which allowed the generated DNA to encode new functions and properties in order to find progressive solutions to concrete problems.

The Berlin-based iGEM team was working on inserting BioBricks in probiotic E.coli strains so that large amounts of metallic nanoparticles would build up inside the bacteria. Then, bacteria were created which could be controlled with magnetic fields; these could then become "bacteria-based nanorobots" or even "remote controlled bacteria".
To achieve this objective, the group of students was pursuing a transdisciplinary approach. Ten different disciplines in total were represented in the project group to achieve the best possible results and out-of-the-box outcomes for developing new technologies.

Benefits and target group

The aim of the project was to produce magnetic E. coli bacteria that can be used in medical treatments, for example. The controllable bacteria could be directed to remove inflamed and tumor-damaged intestinal tissue and replace it with healthy tissue. Directed movement of E. coli bacteria in bioprocess technology allows for a variety of applications. It enables bacteria to be manipulated, separated and even opened up, so as to establish efficient value-adding products. Another application is the biochemical production of rare earth minerals in the laboratory by manufacturing metallic nanoparticles; thus reducing the need for mining operations that pollute the environment. At the end of the project, the BioBricks that were created have been integrated into the iGEM competition's extensive open-source database.

Support from the Hybrid Plattform

In addition to the project scientists, artists and designers were also involved, whom the Hybrid Plattform has brought together.