Student team from TU Delft wins international Synthetic Biology competition
Students from TU Delft have won the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston. Earlier this week, the team presented their idea for a quick, on-site method to demonstrate antibiotic resistance in bacteria in dairy cattle. The test would allow a farmer to adjust the treatment if resistant bacteria is detected, and reduce the unnecessary usage of antibiotics.
The students focused their idea on application in the dairy cattle industry, and on a common bovine disease: mastitis (udder inflammation). The method uses a protein, Cas13a, which is part of the CRISPR/Cas family. The Cas13a protein can be programmed to search for genes that are known to be present specifically in antibiotic resistant bacteria. In contrast to the other Cas proteins, the Cas13a protein subsequently also attacks all the other RNA in a cell once it has been activated. The Delft iGEM team has developed a test method to reveal this enormous RNA breakdown. “In the case of detection, the cloudy sample becomes clear, and this can easily be seen with the naked eye,” explains Fiona Murphy.
The students also considered usability, working together with various stakeholders. “In order to increase the impact of our method, the farmer needs to be able to detect antibiotic resistance in the field, without laboratory instruments,” says Kimberly Barentsen.
The students were inspired by a remarkable, miniscule animal, the tardigrade. Tardigrades are considered to be the most resilient animals on earth. In a dehydrated state, they can survive in extreme conditions. Several hours after coming into contact with water, the tardigrades become active once again. The students investigated whether they could use proteins that are unique to tardigrades to dehydrate the Cas proteins without them being deactivated.
Although the students have demonstrated that their method works in the laboratory, a product is still in the making. “It is a proof of concept, so a lot still needs to be optimised. We naturally hope that companies will set to work with our ideas and that a concrete application is introduced soon,” says Aafke van Aalst. The detection method can be widely applied to demonstrate resistance and improve the efficiency of treatment strategies using antibiotics.
In addition to the Grand Prize, the TU Delft team also won the following awards:
Best Part Collection
Best Innovation in Measurement
Best Supporting Entrepeneurship
Best Education and Public Engagement
Best New Application Project (Track Winner)
Best Integrated Human Practices
Best New Composite Part