NatSci researchers on MSU team that medals in synthetic biology competition

  • Dec 20, 2016
  • Faculty & Staff, Research, Biochemistry, Plant Research Laboratory

MSU's first ever iGEM team recently earned a bronze medal in the iGEM Foundation competition.

MSU's first ever iGEM team recently earned a bronze medal in the iGEM Foundation competition.

MSU’s first ever international genetically engineered machine (iGEM) team, which included several College of Natural Science (NatSci) team members, recently earned a bronze medal in the iGEM Foundation competition.  

The iGEM competition challenges teams with two goals: to create a project with elements that will add characterized biological parts to the Registry of Standardized Biological Parts, and to incorporate community outreach and interactive education on iGEM and synthetic biology.

NatSci team members are: Pamela Himadewi, a junior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology (BMB)/biotechnology; team mentor Eric Young, a fourth year graduate student studying synthetic biology with Danny Ducat, BMB assistant professor; and principal investigators Bjoern Hamberger, BMB assistant professor, Michaela TerAvest, BMB assistant professor, and Ducat, who is also a faculty member of the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory.

The team, dubbed Frosty the Cyanos, is comprised of three undergraduate students and a team of professors and advisors. They all traveled to Boston, Mass., to debut their project, which seeks to engineer cold and freezing adaptations to cyanobacteria.

After deliberation on how the team wanted to address both aspects of the competition, they decided to focus on developing a low-cost, DIY cyanobacterial bioreactor for growing cyanobacteria in a continuous culture, and engaging the community at Lansing’s Impression 5 Science Center. Engineering cheaper alternatives to expensive lab equipment is significant because it lowers the economic barriers associated with synthetic biology and brings the capacity to do science to more communities.

At the competition, the team gave a 20-minute presentation about their project, followed by a question and answer session and nightly discussions about the team’s work in front of posters deigned to explain the research done.

In addition to being recognized with a bronze medal, the team created a new cyanobacterial part that was added to the Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

A complete list of the team members, advisors and mentors can be found at