Respect for the Israeli Academy: Students from the Technion and Tel Aviv University won gold medals at the World Synthetic Biology Championship (iGEM). Students from 256 universities around the world participated in the competition.
The Technion’s team for iGEM – a prestigious international competition in synthetic biology – was announced this week that it had won a gold medal. The Technion said that this is the seventh gold medal given to the academic institution’s teams in this competition over the years. The development that won the group of students the gold medal is ACT – an active gel that traps the corona viruses. The name ACT is an abbreviation of Anti COVID-19 Technology, and when the students translated it into Hebrew, the abbreviation Tank – Technology against Corona was received.
The group members, most of them students in the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, sought to develop a product that would reduce the pollution caused by contact. The two main advantages of the gel over existing disinfectants are – its continuous activity – it works from the moment it is applied to the skin for hours and is therefore also a preventive solution; And being selective – it does not harm the microbiome of the skin or the cells of the body, as it is completely specific for the corona virus.
iGEM is a prestigious competition founded in 2004 at MIT to provide students, especially in undergraduate studies, with the opportunity to experience scientific and applied research in the world of synthetic biology. The Technion teams have been participating in the competition since 2012, at the initiative of Prof. Roi Amit, Head of the Synthetic Biology Laboratory for Decoding Genomic Codes in the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering. Prof. Amit emphasizes that “the achievements of the Technion teams for iGEM are significant and do not amount to just medals, as significant research and intellectual property accumulates here, which is reflected in scientific articles and patents published by two of our teams.”
This year, naturally, the competition was held for the first time in an online format with the participation of 256 teams from universities from all over the world. The 14 members of the Technion team are: Hadas Jung from Haifa, Tomer Antman from Mordechai, Amir Batker from Haifa, Dor Yosef from Haifa, Ella Samuel from Kfar Hess, Ilana Elizarov from Netanya, Niv Skrabianskis from Netanya, Noa Weiss from Haifa, Shani Ackerman from Binyamina, Shani Greenstein from Ramat Gan, Shai in Manny from Holon, Yara Zibek from Acre, Saar Shaviv from Haifa and Zishuan Li from Shantou in China.
The Technion team was led by students Tomer Antman and Hadas Jung, who joined Prof. Amit’s lab in their second year of study to “taste the world of research,” according to them. At the beginning of the year, the group members came up with different ideas for the joint project, but the corona plague devoured the cards and led to the choice of the challenge of cutting the adhesive chains. Antman said: “We knew that in the case of the corona plague we must act not out of hope for positive developments but out of a decision to drive such developments.”
“We learned that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive on the skin for many hours, several times more than the flu virus,” Jung explained. “Fortunately, common disinfectants have been found to be effective against the virus, but they have two drawbacks – they destroy the virus only when used and not after it; and they also harm the good bacteria on the skin, our microbiome.”
“We are shedding the virus on fish and the system on fishing,” Antman added. “The gateway for corona viruses to the body’s cells is 2ACE protein, so our ‘bait’ is an engineered ACE2 protein that attracts the viruses to cling to it; the ‘hook’ is the ingredient that carries those proteins; and the ‘wait’ is the gel itself in which they work The bait and the hook. “
One of the conditions for participation in the international competition is a contribution to the community. In this context, the Technion is a member of the student teams of Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University and focused on the challenge of reducing racism in STEM studies (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
The group members were assisted by faculty members who assisted them in the project – Prof. Roi Amit, Prof. Boaz Mizrahi, Prof. Esti Segal and Prof. Yuval Shoham – and the practitioners who accompanied them: Naor Gernik, Tzila Davidov, Noa Eden-Navon and Inbal Vaknin, all from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering .
In the same competition – the team of Tel Aviv University, which is half women, won first place in the category of best software development and second place in the Foundational advance award (given for proposing solutions to fundamental problems in the field of synthetic biology).
The team of Tel Aviv University, under the direction of the Head of the Laboratory for Systemic, Synthetic and Computational Biology, from the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, Prof. Tamir Toller, included 12 outstanding students from the Faculties of Engineering, Medicine, Life Sciences and Exact Sciences: Karin Nibov (Captain Karin Sionov) My colleagues, Hadar Ben-Shoshan, Noa Kreitzer, Bar Glickstein, Itamar Menuhin, Matan Arbel, Doron Naki, Omer Edgar, Itai Katzir, David Koenigsberger and Einav Saadia.
Genetic engineering is based on the ability to insert genes from one creature to another. The challenge in this process is the instability of such genes, which are usually “deleted” fairly quickly from the genome. During the competition, the team developed an innovative technology that improves genomic stability and preserves, over time, the synthetic gene that is inserted into an organism. Because this type of genetic engineering is used today by most biotech and pharma companies in the world, this technology will contribute to areas such as pharmaceutical development, the food and agriculture industry, and the development of green energy.
The technology is based on tools from various disciplines including engineering, computer science and molecular biology, and includes software for the design of genetically stable DNA sequences and innovative methods of measuring genomic stability. The development impressed many judges and even awarded them gold medals, awards and very high rankings. Categories.
Team captain Karin Sionov, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the Faculty of Engineering, said: “It is a great honor for me to head a team of outstanding students who have proudly represented Tel Aviv University and the State of Israel. We have made our great and challenging investment throughout the year. We came to the competition full of motivation, we all invested in the competition and I am happy that we left behind leading universities from all over the world. “
Prof. Tamir Tuller concluded: “This is a very impressive achievement that shows that Tel Aviv University is a leader and excels in the field of synthetic biology not only in Israel but worldwide. One of the proofs of the achievement is also expressed in interest from a Swiss company that has already contributed to support the idea. To commercialize the idea. “
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