Each year, the iGEM competition encourages undergraduates from all over the world to create synthetic bacterial machines by organising modular pieces of genome. This is a guest post from the iGEM team in Buenos Aires about the competition and their project.

We are happy to be presented as the first team from Argentina to participate it the iGEM competition.

As the first of many teams to come we have a huge responsibility and getting started was a hard job: we had to start the lab from scratch, make connections and look for sponsors most of whom had never heard about the competition. But we did it all with great confidence and we've found a lot of support from scientists working in Synthetic Biology and former iGEM teams. Fortunately, we got support from several organizations, including our university, UNU-Biolac and Argentina's Science, Innovation and Production Department (MINCYT), which supported us both with funding and trust.

In April 2012, our university held the first Latin American EMBO Global Exchange Lecture Course which at the same time was the first Latin American gathering of people interested in Synthetic Biology. Here, students from the region were invited to learn and share their thoughts. We had lecturers from invited speakers, including several of the first iGEM founders. The response was amazing, the university received students coming from Mexico to Chile and the outcomes were fabulous: Latin America is a growing region and a great promise for this upcoming discipline. We are certain that many local problems can be solved through Synthetic Biology. Furthermore, the free exchange of knowledge and technology, which are the basis of the competition, are invaluable.

In this spirit, we translated the concept of community build up into our project, where we aimed to create a community of microorganisms, in which each member is in a defined and stable proportion. If we succeed, this could be used as a standard tool in lab and industry, defining a new layer of modularity. The design of the system is based on a “Synthetic symbiosis”, in which each member of the community produces and secretes aminoacids the other members need to survive. By regulating the amount of aminoacid secreted, we could in principle control the proportions of each strain.

Our goal is to be able to control the proportion of each strain in the coculture, just as species interactions are naturally balanced in ecosystems and we used a biobrick (shown in the image below) in order to control the export of Trp. The Trojan is a class of peptide with translocating properties that would be capable of carrying the signal (His or Trp) across the plasma membrane for secretion and into the plasma membrane of the target cell (namely, the other strain).

Possible applications of our project are endless: food industry, optimization of bioreactors, bioremediation and alternative energy source generation, among others. It would also become a very useful tool for academia and medicine studies since it would allow, for example, the study of biopathways by isolating the different steps in different strains or the study of the interaction of gene products that would otherwise not fit into a single organism. And more, the innovation of our proposal is that we are introducing a new level of modularity since our main unit is the actual engineered organism and our system is the whole community.

As part of our human practices, we have related to Garage Lab, a group of Argentinian social entrepreneurs that are keen on technology and informatics. Together we plan on using the heavy metals detectors that can be constructed with the iGEM kit for the assessment of the Rio de la Plata pollution, a big environmental problem here in Buenos Aires. Work will continue after the Jamborees - this is just the start!

For more information about the team's project, go visit their wiki page or their iGEM webpage.