After 10 months of preparation, a team of University of Wisconsin students is ready to go head-to-head with schools from around the world in a unique competition.
The group is participating in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, which attracts 130 teams from universities across the globe, according to its website.
What makes the competition unique is that each team can develop its own project — not all 130 teams need to focus on the same type of project, team member and UW senior Nate Cira said.
The competition will be held this weekend on campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
The team’s project is a bacterial medication delivery system, which Cira said is like a bacterial pill you can swallow.
The purpose of the system is to treat conditions such as lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and high cholesterol, Cira said.
The system provides enzymes to specific locations of the digestive tract, Cira said, which allows the person to digest, for example, milk and ice cream.
For Cira, the most challenging part of developing the system was the sheer size of the project and the many components involved.
From ensuring the system provides the correct proteins and survives through the stomach to finding a way to produce the enzyme, Cira said completing such a large project was daunting.
“Not to mention, anytime you’re working with biology it oftentimes doesn’t go as planned,” Cira added.
The team consists of six UW students with backgrounds in biology, chemistry, engineering and microbiology, team adviser and UW professor of chemical engineering Brian Pfleger said.
Pfleger said the group will be judged for their written, oral and poster presentations of the project.
UW has competed in iGEM since 2007, with Pfleger acting as adviser since 2008.
Pfleger said he sees iGEM as a beneficial opportunity for undergraduates in that they can conduct their own research and direct their own work.
“For me personally seeing all the different research…is kind of inspiring to say these people are able to do that much with just the knowledge they have and the skills they’ve developed as an undergraduate,” Cira said.